Sun 29 Jan 2012
After my trip Thursday to the Metro Courthouse to see about the status of the ticket I got on my bike in December turned out to be a wasted one, I pedaled up to the Central Library to redeem the day by checking out an exhibit of historical Los Angeles maps that are being displayed in the branch’s first floor galleries (If you’re interested, I wrote at Blogging.la about why it’s something worth checking out).
Of the excellent selection of cartography arrayed, one that I found very intriguing was the first true plat map made in 1884 showing ownership of various parcels of land throughout the city’s original core boundaries. And after marveling both at the creek that used to run down what’s now Silver Lake Boulevard as well as at what had been the unknown original reservoir location to the south of what’s now the Silver Lake Reservoir (basically submerging Silver Lake Boulevard between Sunset Boulevard and Effie Street), I snapped the following picture of the northwest corner of it for further review to determine which not-yet-subdivided parcel contained our future lot (click it for the bigger picture):
So today I opened it up, and from the bottom third of the above pic was able to translate the near nonexistent street grid of the city 128 years or so into the future and find the intersection of Canal and Temple streets then are today’s Bellevue Avenue and London Street, from which our street extends northward over parcels that were first owned by a GH Smith & GS Patton.
With a last name of Patton I wondered if that wouldn’t be the coolest thing if that person might not be a relation of none other than famed World War II General.
So I took a shot in the dark and googled “GS Patton land owner Los Angeles” and I wouldn’t you know there stood a good chance that it was Patton’s dad. Via a link to the book “Los Angeles from the Mountains to the Sea, Vol.2” by John Steven McGroarty, a passage in it showed me that GS Patton was General Patton’s father, who it turns out owned a lot of real estate after coming to Los Angeles in 1878 (see the bolded text near the end of the passage below):
Since there’s some vagueness as to whether that bolded sentence referred to Patton or Benjamin D. Wilson, the influential father of the woman he married, I went searching from more proof. So I next googled “GH Smith.” The first hit took me to a book titled “Out West, Vol. 25” by Charles Lummis that identified a “Col. G.H. Smith” as being one of the founders of the Los Angeles Public Library. Then another reference identified him as “Geo. H. Smith,” and finally I got to the George Hugh Smith Wikipedia page, and found what I was looking for (text emphasized below):
George Hugh Smith was born in Philadelphia, the son of George Archibald Smith and Ophelia Ann Williams. His family moved back to Virginia when he was a child. Smith attended Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia with his cousin George Smith Patton, and graduated in 1853. Smith was admitted to the bar in 1855, and he practiced law until the out break of the Civil War.
Smith and Patton… cousins!? Dang. Further on down Smith’s Wiki page it says he came to Los Angeles in 1869 and got into the legal side of the real estate game:
In 1870 Smith joined the law partnership of Alfred Chapman and Andrew Glassell, the firm becoming known as Glassell, Chapman & Smith. Their law practice was confined chiefly to real estate transactions and they made their fortunes in the large partition suits.
In fact, if you look on the map two parcels south of the Canal and Temple streets intersection you’ll see one owned by an A. Glassell — no doubt Smith’s partner, Andrew.
So there you have it, folks. In the grand scheme of things this might not be much more to most than an asterisk in the annals of Los Angeles’ first land boom, but to a history geek like me, it’s just diggity dang cool knowing that in 1884 the father (and cousin) of the legendary World War II general — and two notable gentlemen in their own right — were the first owners of the standard plot of land upon which our little house was build 22 years later in 1906.
UPDATE (02.25): I learned through this nifty little documentary vid linked from this post at the Eastsider LA Blog regarding the history of The Cut that was first a railway and then Sunset Boulevard, that a geneological clarification is in order. While GH Smith was in fact the cousin of GS Patton II as well as of Patton II’s son, the famed World War II general, Smith was also and more importantly Patton II’s and the general’s step-father and step-grandfather, respectively. The general’s paternal grandfather, GS Patton I, was killed in a Civil War battle, leaving Susan Thornton Glassell a widow, who Smith subsequently married in 1870. So in addition to being a bloodline cousin to Gen. Patton, Smith was his step-grandfather by marriage and, in fact, the only grandfather he ever knew.