Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Long, Happy Life of Lucian Wilson

First, some old business. I asked in the last post if anyone could identify the car parked in front of the Farm House in that picture the city gave us.

Reader Tim e-mailed to say it's a 1964 Mercury Comet. . .

1964 Comet Caliente Convertible

And he's right! It seems fitting that it should be a Mercury, considering the 1935 Mercury that a neighbor reported finding parked in a thicket next to the house.

Anyway, thanks, Tim, and nice work! I had never before noticed the echoes of the Continental look in its littlest stablemate.

1964 Lincoln Continental

Also, I was utterly wrong regarding the family background of Annie's husband Archie. He did not come from a farming family, and he did not have a brother and two sisters. Who knew there were two Archie Wilsons born on the same day in Wheeling, West Virginia?

Our Archie's father, John E., was a wholesale dry goods merchant, and his mother Corinne Hornbrook Wilson kept house with the help of two servants, according to the 1870 Census. Archie only had one sibling, Lucy, who was two years his senior. I bet Lucian is named after his aunt.

I don't have much more information about Archie's family, but there's enough to suggest that they were fairly prosperous (starting with the two servants in the 1870 Census). The records conflict with each other somewhat, but they suggest that Corinne was widowed by the end of the century, and she spent considerable time, from either 1898 or 1901 to about August of 1915, in London (where I gather she had family on her father's side). She made a side trip to Russia in 1910, at which time she listed her home as Wheeling, but in 1915, when she was returning to America, she listed her home as Los Angeles. It is thus virtually certain that Corinne was a guest within the Farm House walls, and perhaps even a resident for a time.

One last bit of old business: I have a picture of Archie and Annie's eldest son John Encell that I forgot to show you:

This is from his 1921 passport application, dated just two days before his 34th birthday.

* * *
When last we saw Lucian Wilson, Archie and Annie's younger son, it was April 26, 1910. The Census was taken that day, and he was still living at the Farm House with his mother, his nephew Denfield, and a boarder recently come from England. He was 21, and working for Pacific Telephone as a collector.

Having reviewed the record, I'd like to go back eight years, to 1902. I now have it on good authority that this was the year that Annie moved from Cucamonga to Pasadena with her two sons, John and Lucian. That good authority is Lucian himself, believe it or not; happily, he gave a biographical interview to a newspaper late in his life that fills in a lot of blanks. I'll discuss the interview itself at length at its proper place in the narrative, but I'll be using facts from it as I go along.

School Days

We now also know that the school Lucian attended while living in the Farm House was the Throop Polytechnic Institute. This school was unlike any I know of today; it was something like a combination high school and college that placed the manual arts on the same level as the liberal arts and the sciences. Its motivating principle was that learning how to work with one's hands, how to solve physical problems by direct action, helped build a better citizen whether one went on to become a machinist or a lawyer, a physician or a plumber.

Put another way, the principle was that the mental discipline gained by learning how to draw a figure, or machine a bearing, or craft a mortise-and-tenon joint, was the best exercise for teaching young minds how to solve the abstract problems all adults face as responsible members of society.

As a practical consideration, moreover, imparting a solid foundation in the manual arts along with a good basic knowledge of the liberal arts and the sciences produced young adults highly adaptable to a wide range of livelihoods. A Throop-educated man, ideally, would always be able to find a good job.

Lucian attended the college preparatory program at Throop; he says in the interview that his father's untimely death in 1900 prevented him from continuing on with college. As nearly as I can determine, he graduated in either 1905 or 1906, but he apparently remained involved with his alma mater afterwards, because I found an article from 1908 that names him as a judge in a Throop track meet.

On to Adulthood

Even so, after graduation he got right to work in construction, and by 1907 he had a journeyman plasterer's card. I expect it's no coincidence that his older brother John, according to the 1910 Census, was at the time a plastering contractor. But Lucian soon found the work unbearably tedious, so by the time of the 1910 Census he was working for Pacific Telephone, as we already knew.

Lucian continued to live here until he got married, sometime between late November 1911 and mid-January 1912, to Helen Herd, who at the time of the 1910 Census was living with her family in San Gabriel and working as a clerk in a dry goods store. Helen's brother Clifton entered Throop's college prep program in 1908, which quite possibly has a lot to do with how Helen and Lucian met. Clifton was quite an athlete, distinguishing himself especially in tennis, but he also made a name for himself in football and track. It doesn't take much imagination to picture Lucian, standing on the side judging an event, noticing pretty Helen cheering for her brother. The scene almost writes itself.

By 1913, Lucian had become a shipping clerk for the freight division of the Pacific Electric (the company that ran the regional streetcar system), and he'd also bought a house of his own (which is still standing) in the 800 block of Wilson, which is just two blocks east and one block north of the Farm House. On September 28 of that year, Helen had a baby girl, Janet.

They didn't stay in that house long, because in the 1914 city directory, he is listed as the owner of a different house: this house. That fits with what we already know, actually. If you will recall, Annie was listed in the Santa Barbara city directory at her mother's address in 1913. What I didn't mention is that Annie is listed in the 1914 Pasadena city directory back at this address as a resident, not the homeowner. Also, from the city's records, we did know that Lucian was listed as a Pasadena Star subscriber here on January 6 of that year.

It seems clear to me what transpired here: Annie planned a long visit to her mother in Santa Barbara, so she arranged with Lucian for him to sell his house and move in here. That way, Lucian could save some money, and the Farm House would be well-sat while Annie was away. And so, Lucian moved his wife Helen and little baby daughter Janet back into the home of his teenage years for perhaps a year. Annie returned in time for the 1914 city directory survey, wherein it was assumed that Lucian, the eldest resident male, was the homeowner.

Contrast this to the apparent lack of planning when Annie went up to San Francisco in 1926 to be with John and Lena, leaving the Farm House unoccupied while buying a home up there. This convinces me that Annie left in a hurry in response to a sudden need for her presence, and that once she got there it was apparent that need would persist for an indefinite length of time.

Meanwhile, back in Pasadena, the 1914 city directory revealed another big change for Lucian: he was now the foreman of the Batchelder Tile Company.

Introducing Ernest Batchelder

I've come across the Batchelder name a great deal in my research on local history. It's a name that is virtually synonymous with Craftsman architecture in this city, and that's really just scratching the surface of this man's achievements and contributions.

Ernest A. Batchelder

Ernest A. Batchelder (1875-1957) was an artist, designer, educator and community leader. After a childhood spent in and around Nashua, New Hampshire, he attended the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, graduating in 1899 with two diplomas: one in drawing, painting and design, and another in the teaching of drawing with an emphasis on grade school instruction.

Seeking opportunities for self-improvement, he did what Archie and Annie had done: he moved to California. By 1901, he had found his way to Pasadena, and was soon employed as an instructor at Throop Polytechnic.

He thrived at this work, soon becoming known in the American arts community as both an authority on California artists and a leading educator in drawing and design. In recognition of his growing reputation (and to keep him from leaving for greener pastures), he was made a director of Throop's art department in 1907.

Despite this vote of confidence, Batchelder soon found that his welcome at Throop was wearing out—not because the school had soured on him, but because it had soured on drawing, design, and manual arts in general.

Education theory was undergoing a drastic shift at the time. The idea of a comprehensive, well-rounded education for all students was out; in was the idea of specialized, intellectually-stratified education targeted to a student's aptitudes. Under this new regime, study of the manual arts was considered a waste of time for those with a high scientific aptitude.

Largely orchestrated by the famed astronomer George Ellery Hale, Throop Polytechnic Institute made the decision in 1908 to specialize in engineering and the sciences, and began to spin off or terminate the other courses of study. The school underwent a series of name changes to reflect its changing mission, until at last in 1920 it settled on a name it could live with: California Institute of Technology.

Batchelder left Throop in 1909 with the intention of starting his own school to accommodate his students who had also been abandoned by their old alma mater. Having made the commitment to settle down for good in Pasadena, however, the first thing he did was to design and build himself a house on the rim of the Arroyo Seco, a lovely Craftsman-style home.

The Batchelder house.

Once the house was built, he built a shed in the back yard to accommodate his teaching efforts. He put a kiln in, and started calling in his old students. Things got cranking right away, and it wasn't very long before Batchelder was selling tiles to Greene and Greene, the famous Craftsman architectural firm. Soon, everyone was buying the tiles, and Batchelder's students were not only learning how to design and make tiles, but also how to market them.

Perhaps more importantly to Batchelder, they were gaining the dignity that comes from making a living from your work, the satisfaction that comes from having people value it, and the joy that comes from doing what you love. As Batchelder himself put it, "The dignity of labor is of the mind and heart, not of the hand alone."

By 1912, the tile business had outgrown Batchelder's backyard shed, and so he moved the business at about that time to a facility on Broadway (now Arroyo Parkway).

If you'd like to learn more about Ernest Batchelder (and there's a lot more worth learning), read Batchelder: Tilemaker, a biography by local resident and Occidental College professor Robert Winter. You'll learn a lot about the man, his work, and Pasadena history as well. As I said, I've come across the Batchelder name a great deal in my research.

Actually, I've come across that name a great deal in my backyard as well.

These tiles were used for many things by the Wilsons: as stepping stones, as plant bases, for erosion control. 

This one was right next to the house; as you can see, it's been painted the house color. I'm liable to find one or two of these whenever I dig in a new place around the grounds. Now I know how they got here.



Old School Connections

But let's get back to Lucian. When I first saw his significant upgrade in position, from shipping clerk to foreman, I was baffled. How could he just step into a job that obviously requires so much skill? It was simply inconceivable that Batchelder would put someone with no experience in such a crucial position, especially when at the time in question he'd just gotten a large, high-profile commission to design, manufacture and install a completely tile-lined interior for the Dutch Chocolate Shop on Sixth Street in downtown Los Angeles.

No, that's just the time he'd put in someone in whose skills and knowledge he had a great deal of confidence.

That was when it occurred to me that Lucian must have attended Throop, and was one of the students who worked with Batchelder during the early days at the backyard kiln. It was that realization that caused me to look explicitly for a connection between Lucian and Throop, which first led me to the article mentioning Lucian's judging of a Throop track meet, and then to the golden key of the late-life interview.

Our next bit of information on Lucian is his World War I draft registration, filed June 5, 1917. He's still the foreman of the Batchelder Tile Company, but he's moved from the Farm House to his own place at 395 Hamilton, just a mile away (since lost to the Foothill Freeway). He and Helen now have two more children, John Hornbrook and Helen Muriel. He is also listed as providing sole support to his mother Annie. That may seem like a heavy load for a 28-year-old, but things were different back then. People grew up faster.

Moving On Up

Next is the 1920 Census. He's still at the same address, and no more children have come, but his recently-widowed mother-in-law and his brother-in-law Clifton have moved in, and things seem to have changed for him at work: his occupation is listed as "manufacturer, tile factory", and in the field labeled "Employer, salary or wage worker, or working on own account," he answered "own account." It's hard to reconcile one thing with the other. Let's look on a little further to see if we can make some sense of this.

The 1921 Pasadena city directory offers no clues, listing only his wife Helen and the 395 Hamilton address, but Lucian is also listed the same year in the Los Angeles city directory, and his place of work is listed as the "Batchelder-Wilson Co."

Batchelder-Wilson. Is it a coincidence? Wilson is a pretty common name, especially in Pasadena. Let's see what Robert Winter, Ernest Batchelder's biographer, has to say:

Certainly the prosperous twenties were the most lucrative for the Batchelder-Wilson Company. Significant was the addition of a business partner, Lucian H. Wilson, who most likely managed the business operations while Batchelder oversaw design and production [italics mine].(1)

I would say that this makes our Lucian a historically-significant person hereabouts. Wouldn't you?

I'm pretty sure, however, that the division of responsibilities between Lucian and Ernest Batchelder was rather different from what Mr. Winter surmised. From what I have learned about Lucian, I'm fairly sure that production—or at very least the management and operation of the kilns—was his primary responsibility, while Batchelder oversaw design, sales and service (and conceivably the glazing process as well). Lucian may have had a significant role in the financial-management part of the business operations, because he certainly was smart with a dollar, but other than that he never showed much flair for business administration. Besides, I imagine both he and Batchelder were too busy with their main concerns to be involved intimately with the day-to-day operation of the business office.

By the way, this explains John Encell's listed occupation in the 1930 Census, that of clerk in a tile factory. I guess we now know which tile factory. Lucian was repaying the favor his brother did for him back when he was a plastering contractor.

The Twenties was a fruitful, prosperous decade for the Batchelder-Wilson Company. It moved at about the time Lucian became a partner to much larger digs near downtown Los Angeles, and soon were keeping eleven kilns constantly busy. The use of Batchelder tile had already become a common selling point in houses and apartments all over the county, and the company was doing major installations that dwarfed the Dutch Chocolate Shop: showrooms, building lobbies, entire hotels. By the end of the decade, the company had offices in New York and Chicago, and Batchelder tile was being installed nationwide.

From the Galveston Daily News, May 1, 1929.

The decade was fruitful and prosperous for Lucian and Helen as well. The family grew by four: Elizabeth in 1921, Richard H. in 1922, Archibald Clifton in 1924 and David Lucian in 1929. By the 1930 Census, the family had moved to a parkside residence on Avenue 49, in a bucolic area of Highland Park next to the Arroyo Seco, complete with a live-in maid.

Of course, by that Census the good times had already come to an end for everybody, as the Great Depression set in. Elaborate tile installations had suddenly become a shameful extravagance, and by 1932 the Batchelder-Wilson Company had closed its doors for good. Lucian emerged from that with enough capital to purchase a Chevrolet dealership, but he gave that up before too long. Quoting from his later newspaper interview:

"I had," [Lucian] says, "one short spasm of about a year as the operator of a Chevrolet agency. That’s when I learned that I was not a salesman." He could sell new cars but apparently was much too truthful to peddle the used ones. He could not resist telling potential buyers what was wrong with the old cars and consequently soon had an overabundance of those taken on trade.(2)

Also in 1933, Lucian and Helen saw one last addition to the brood, Constance, giving them a total of eight children, four boys and four girls.

By 1935 the family had moved to more modest digs further uptown on Avenue 40. During this period he worked for a brick and pipe manufacturing company, according to his later interview, mostly at the kilns.

Although Lucian never complains in his interview, it must have been quite a humbling experience to be a mere employee again after having been a principal in a major national company for over a decade. Then again, Lucian always had a job, even in the depths of the Great Depression; his Throop education had functioned precisely as designed. Ironically, his old teacher Ernest Batchelder was unable to find a job from 1932 to 1936, though not for want of trying(3).

By the time of the 1940 Census, Lucian's fortunes had improved somewhat. He was the proprietor of an auto-repair business. Of course, his living expenses had decreased: his three eldest children were already out of the house. Janet and John were married, and as I mentioned in the last post, Helen Muriel was living here at the Farm House with her uncle John and grandmother Annie. She was working as a bookkeeper.

Yes, life was moving on for Lucian. He was 52, he'd been married for 28 years, he had eight children, and had accumulated a very respectable record of achievement. Conditions were ideal for him to coast through a nice, comfortable, quiet second half.

But Lucian wasn't nearly ready for quietude. Stasis had never been part of his curriculum vitae, and it wasn't about to be. For better or worse, Lucian had always been a bold actor, and he was soon to make a major take-no-prisoners stage dive into an entirely new world.

Next: Lucian leaves Los Angeles.

* * * 

The Princess of the Black Forest.

1. Winter, Robert, Batchelder: Tilemaker (Glendale, California: Balcony Press, 1999), p. 67. 
2. Van Dornum, Rae, "Not Even A Broken Neck Could Stop This Fellow", Henderson Home News, October 19, 1972, p. 6.
3. Winter, p. 120.