Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand

 

Leslie C. Brand

 

by

Marilyn Slater


October 19, 2008

(updated November 18, 2008)

The plane dripped low on the horizon, the assembled group looked up to see who would be next to drop-in at the “fly-in party.”  Leslie Coombs Brand and Mary Louise Brand built the City of Glendale, not just the glorious Moorish Castle that was the backdrop of this wonderful party held in April of 1921.

 

The landing field was just outside the front gate of the Brand Mansion, in Glendale, which sat on the former land grant of Jose Verdugo, located in the triangle of land between the Los Angles River, Arroyo Seco and the Sierra Madre Foothills.  It was an area of 36,400 acres of woodland, chaparral and grassland.  By the beginning of the 1900s, the area had become the beneficiary of the advertising campaign to attract development to Southern California.  The tracks of the Los Angeles Interurban (the Pacific Electric Railway) were laid in 1904 through a strip of land owned by Leslie C. Brand near Brand Boulevard.  Glendale was incorporated as a city in 1906.  It was ready to become a lively commercial center. 

 The location had gone through the transition of the “Great Partition” the sagebrush was cleared away to make room for the orchards.  The former Rancho San Rafael morphed into Glendale, Tropico, Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Atwater.

The population was growing fast; the orchards were being turned into subdivisions with California Bungalow and Spanish Colonial Revival style homes. The Southern Pacific Train Station and the Grand Central Airport helped link Glendale to the increasing population of Southern California. In one ten-year period, the inhabitants grew by 50,000 new residents.  Leslie C Brand founded the Title Guarantee and Trust Company in 1895 in Los Angeles.  Its purpose was to prove title to property in real estate transactions as an escrow does today.  By 1922, his letterhead read, “Paid up capital and surplus, 1,000,000 dollars.

 

In 1911, L.C. bought property near Mono Lake in the High Sierras as a base camp for fishing the many lakes and streams in the area.  In order to shorten the time it took to get there, he became interested in owning an airplane.  It took a two-day hard journey by car to make the trip: L.C. built a landing field and hanger, bought an airplane and hired a pilot.  He had a plane custom-made by LePere and Waterman of Santa Monica as the first airplane didn’t have enough power to reach enough altitude to fly into Mono Lake.  At the end of World War I, L.C. bought ten Army surplus Jennys and stored them on the estate until they were sold off, one or two at a time still in their crates.

 

And so it was that in 1921, Leslie Coombs Brand, some knew him as L.C. and others called him, Father of Glendale. He was an early developer of business, banking and became a major figure in the settlement and economic growth of the Glendale area. He was a relentless booster of Southern California. He once took out a full-page newspaper ads asking the question, “Have you been to Glendale?”

 

The magnificent family residence became known in the local community as "The Brand Castle." It was built in 1904.  He had made his fortune in utilities, transportation, and real estate, that afternoon the party guest stood around the area's first private airfield; he had even established his own fleet of planes. His guests included, Ruth Roland, Mary Miles Minter and Cecil B. DeMille. I haven’t found the party’s guest list but it seems to have been a rather grand outing.  The Brands were very generous people.  They made their beautiful home and gardens available for various activities.  Movie studios used the property a number of times as a location.  THE MAN BENEATH (1919) Sessue Hayakawa used the Brand Castle as a backdrop for India

 L.C. had an early interest in aviation and this 1921 fly-in may have been the first in history.  His estate had several acres of orange trees, a large lemon grove, a fruit orchard, a tennis court and swimming pool. There were saddle horses, milk cows, peacock and peahens that ran free, chickens, ducks, a turkey or two and wells that L.C. owned at Grandview and San Fernando Road.  There was an airplane-hanger, a 4-car garage, a greenhouse and not far from the greenhouse was a large parrot cage.  On the hill above the Castle reservoir, there was a U.S. Government radio station, which broadcasted the weather reports to airplanes; it was the forerunner of what became known as the FAA. In the garden was a large fishpond with a lovely fountain in the center.  There were three palm-thatched gazebos located on the grounds; these could be used in very warm weather for sleeping.  Out the back door and up a flight of stone steps, on the right was a long flight to a cave cut in the side of the hill used for storage.

The “Castle” was similar to the one designed and built for the 1893 Chicago World Fair called EL Miradero. It was considered Saracenic architecture, with crenellated arches, bulbous domes and minars combining characteristics of Spanish, Moorish, and Indian styles.

 Fletcher Pomeroy was hired in 1907 as the chauffeur, he married Cora Myers in 1908; Cora was Mary Louise’s cook (1925-1940) and they had 6 children while living on the estate.  Cora only started as the cook when L.C. was dying. 

 

Her son, Orville remembers on one occasion standing at the doorway of a room with an open ceiling and glass roof where he heard L.C. moaning in pain, suffering. The doctors could not do much to help a cancer victim in 1925. L.C. even sought help from Aimee Semple McPherson, the renowned faith healer. In April, the death of L.C. brought great sadness to the Pomeroy family also a fear for their future.  Mary Louise Brand at the time of her husband’s death employed 6 people on the estate grounds. Mary loved her beautiful estate but she might want to move away.  

 Leslie Brand died of prostate cancer in the house April 10, 1925, just before his 66 birthday, he had been born in Florisant Missouri on May 12, 1859.  Mary Louise Dean was born in Texas lived in the house until her death in 1945 in an auto accident in Arizona.  Mary was the only wife of Leslie; they had at least 3 dogs and no children.  After L.C. death, Theresa Dean, came to live with her sister, her brother, Charles Dean had a career in the army was often a visitor at the Castle. 

 L.C.’s funeral services were held right in the house.  The casket was placed at the foot of the stairs.  There were flowers and people in every room.  Orville was lifted by his father so he could see L.C. better.  Brand’s right arm was placed across his chest and in his hand was a cross set with a single diamond.  The casket was transported to the private cemetery on the estate; while an airplane flew low overhead dropping flowers.

At Mary Brand death in 1945, her will left the Castle to the City of Glendale provided that the property be used exclusively for a public park and library. By 1956, the “Castle” had been converted into Brand Library.

 Cecilia Rasmussen is the author of over 500 articles in the Los Angeles Times since 1997 about the tycoons and beggars, dreamy spiritualist and the mad-eyed killers of Southern California. On April 6, 2008 her “Then and Now” Column, she wrote of L.C. Brand and the possibility that he had fathered 2 sons by a woman by the name of Aunt Birdie.  Birdie had lived quietly in the area.

 

 Birdie had been born in Sun Valley, Idaho and had won a Miss Nevada contest, L.C. met Birdie on a train from Oregon to Los Angeles.  She was in her 20s and L.C. was in his 50s.  It seems that he sent her to secretarial school and gave her a job. L.C. arranged for Birdie to have property at Rinaldi and Laurel Canyon. Birdie used a name that L.C. picked out of the phone book and the family was provided for by L.C. even after his death. According to L.C.’s son when his father found that his mother was pregnant, L.C. married her in Tijuana, even though he already was married to Mary Louise, perhaps being a bigamist was not as socially unacceptable as being the parent of a bastard.

 When Judy Brand wrote a biography of L.C. Brand, her husband’s great-uncle, she heard the stories about Birdie but she had refused to believe that L.C. had lived a double life. The first son was born June 8, 1922, he moved to Australia and was the father of 2 children.  One of Birdie’s granddaughter lives in California, she was the daughter of L.C.'s second son born in September 1923.

 When the city of Glendale released a video by Juliet Arroyo about Leslie C. Brand for the Centennial of the incorporation of the city in 2006, there was nothing about Birdie.  As Juliet Arroyo reported later, “Oh yes, we’ve heard those rumors”. “But we could never prove them.”

 Cecilia Rasmussen decided to have DNA test done of the surviving members of the two families having the newspaper pay the bills for the tests. The samples results were “clear and unambiguous”: “The 2 families were close cousins who share the same ancestor.”

 And so history has been rewritten, I have withheld the names of Birdie’s family as there is always some reluctance on my part to infringe on the privacy of private persons but then again, the story was part of the family lore and it is true.  After all, without proof, there is no truth, only myth.

 

 


Halloween is almost here so a story about Leslie C Brand seems just the right thing; now that you know the facts perhaps, a ghost story may have some truth…the information was first printed in the Glendale News Press on October 30, 1993, some 15 years ago and reprinted on the internet by Nancy Garza, so the story is not new but old ghost stories are the best.

 Joseph Fuchs was the Library Services Administrator at the Brand Library and on a dark moonless night, Joe had stayed late to finish-up a little work, everyone else had left hours before.  His office was located in an isolated room in a high library tower that can only be reached by climbing a winding staircase.

 Joe looked at the clock it was after 8 p.m. he started to put his things away and got ready to go home.  With his satchel in hand, he started towards his office door.  He heard a voice, it was low, moaning. It said, “Joe!” He said to himself, “That’s weird, everyone left hours ago."  Perhaps someone had come back and saw the light in the tower window, Joe yelled down “Yeah? Hi!”

 There was no response.

 Did the sound he heard come from the ground floor? As he thought about it perhaps, the sound was from the center of the staircase but it was visible from his office and there was no one there! Did the voice he heard say “Joe”? Or was it actually “GO”?

 He walked down the staircase, his heart was pounding, and his flesh was tingling.  He avoid walking in the dark, he switched on one light after another in the empty rooms.  He finally got to the safety of his car.

 Was he just over-tired? Was it his imagination?  Does a ghost haunt the Brand Castle? Have others experienced strange happenings at the Brand Library the former home of Leslie C. Brand?

Lisa Blessing, senior customer service representative for the library also told of one afternoon while she was working in the room at the bottom of the stairway, carrying books to a table when suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a male figure climbing the stairs.

 She was about to tell him that the upper floor was off limits to the public when she realized there wasn't anybody there. But Lisa said that she strongly felt, and still does, that someone was there.

 Oh, there have been other strange observations by library staff. Some have heard footsteps coming from the room above when no one was upstairs. Others say books have suddenly fallen over. There were shadows on the stairs, but no one came up or down.

 When the cat that lived in the library entered the old part of the Castle, its hair would stand on end and there were rooms it would not enter at all.  Almost all the staff admitted that they had a feeling the ‘something was there’ in the castle that they couldn’t explain, it was just a feeling.

 And then there was the story that Joe Fuchs told about the room where his office was located when it was used as a storage room.  People didn’t like being there alone.  "There seemed to be a feeling of a presence," he said. "And there was a kind of cold air that all of a sudden would come out of nowhere and sort of move by you."

 Richard Senate, Ghost-hunter, lecturer and author of the soon-to-be released "The Haunted Southland" (Charon Press), thinks so. According to Senate, this is a classic haunting, with drafts of cold air, the feeling of being watched, the voices and a very loose apparition. All of this is an indication of a true haunting. The ghost seems to be that of Leslie C. Brand, he died in the building.

 Many of the staff seem to agree, they just have a feeling that Brand is still around. One of them, customer service representative Amy Wilson, also has a story.

 She worked at the circulation desk. On the wall behind the desk are two paintings: One of Mr. Brand and one of Mrs. Brand. When Amy was at the desk sometimes when she walked around, she felt like Mr. Brand was watching her. It seems like he's alive in the picture. But for some reason, Mrs. Brand is not. Amy had always felt that way."

 

 

Considering all Brand did to make this house so spectacular, could it be that, he was reluctant to leave it - even after his death?