Article written by Mary Mallory
Filmmakers have always loved shooting around the Los Angeles area because so many diverse locations offer tantalizing story possibilities at a fraction of the cost of traveling around the United States or out of the country to film. One of the most popular places employed for location shooting by early filmmaking companies was Pasadena, California. It offered many intriguing filming locations for such directors as D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennett.
Griffith employed the Fenyes Mansion, located at Orange Grove Blvd. and Walnut Ave., for the film When Kings Were the Law in 1912, as well as shooting around Sierra Madre, Echo Mountain, and Mount Lowe for other films. From an earlier post I wrote this year, Mack Sennett and company entered a float in the 1913 Rose Parade in order to shoot a movie, called The Sleuths at the Floral Parade. Busch Gardens in Pasadena also attracted silent filmmakers for its diverse terrain, fascinating storybook structures, and park-like grounds.
Beer mogul Adolphus Busch of St. Louis, Missouri discovered the pleasure of wintering in Pasadena, and bought an elegant home located at 1021 S. Orange Grove Ave. on 30 acres overlooking the Arroyo Seco. As the Pasadena Museum of History quotes him at the opening of a 2005 exhibit on the Gardens, Busch explained, “I selected Pasadena because I considered it a veritable paradise. It has no equal in the world regarding healthful climate, scenery, vegetation, flowers, shrubberies, fruit and general comfort of living.”
Busch hired Robert Gordon Fraser as gardener to landscape the grounds into a peaceful paradise. Four acres adjacent to the house and composed of a steep, eroded ravine was converted into gently rolling terraces. The Upper Gardens near the house bordered Grand Ave. down to just east of what is now Arroyo Blvd., and were constructed in 1905 after torrential rains washed out much of the terracing. These grounds, composed of fourteen acres, resembled formal Victorian gardens. The grounds employed rocks as retaining and boundary walls, and were filled with pathways, bridges, stairs, waterfalls and springs, and an Old Mill, built to resemble one in a Grimm’s Fairy Tale.
In 1906, work began on turning sixteen acres of land west of Arroyo Drive into a rustic, informal garden filled with fairytale figurines, gnomes, picnic areas, and benches spread throughout the miles of winding footpaths. Carrying on the country look, bridges were constructed of Arroyo stone to resemble European ones, with railings resembling tree limbs constructed by shaping and molding concrete. Here Busch built a Grecian Pergola for viewing purposes as well as other colorful outbuildings.
Busch opened the grounds to visitors free of charge in 1909, with Pacific Electric Railways even building a stop nearby. Over the years, city celebrations, convention outings, parties, picnics, Easter egg hunts, carnivals, concerts, fundraisers, flower and dog shows, and rallies were held there. Over a million people visited each year, greeted by two uniformed police officers paid by the city of Pasadena to guard against any vandalism. By the early 1910s, filmmakers discovered the grounds as well.
Mack Sennett brought Charlie Murray, Bobby Dunn, Vivian Edwards, Eddie Cline, Frank Hayes, and others to the grounds on January 8, 1915 to shoot the short, Hogan’s Aristocratic Dream. As Brent Walker describes it in his book, “Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory,” “Tramp Hogan, with his bum “valet” Dunn, dreams he is living the life of royalty in an 18th century setting, but is awakened by farmer Haye’s pitchfork.” Staying mostly in the vicinity of Madeline Dr. and Bellefontaine St. near Stoneridge Dr., the Keystone company filmed around the Grecian Pergola, Arroyo Fountain, Rustic Bridge, and Old Mill.
This photograph shows Charlie Murray, Vivian Edwards, and cast standing around the Old Mill, the stand-in for the 18th-century setting, which featured a working wooden wheel, fed by the flowing stream nearby. Sennett and company returned many times over the years, as did several other companies. Such silent films as Stella Maris and Daddy Long Legs filmed in the grounds, as did such sound films as Duck Soup, Beau Geste, “The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Gone With The Wind.
Adolphus Busch died in 1913, willing the grounds to his wife. The family suffered indignities during World War I because of their name and German heritage. The June 18, 1918 Los Angeles Times stated that the federal government might seize the home and grounds from the family under the alien property act to use as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. The alien property act prevented any diversion of funds from these properties to make their way into support of the enemy. This was because Mrs. Busch had traveled to Germany in late 1913 after her husband’s death to visit their two daughters, who had married Germans. When the war broke out in Europe, Busch experienced troubles trying to return to the United States, from both travel problems and illness. She had made it to Cuba by June 1918, but was an American citizen since infancy, when her father was naturalized.
After the war’s conclusion, the grounds closed on June 19, 1919. Mrs. Busch generously offered the grounds to the city of Pasadena as parkland, but was rebuffed. With the introduction of prohibition and the closure of the brewery plants, it was too expensive for the family to afford the $40,000 yearly cost to maintain the grounds. The grounds were put up for sale in the 1920s, either as a whole, or to be subdivided into lots. Developers slowly bought up parcels over the years, with the last remaining land seeing home construction in the early 1950s.
Many bits and pieces of the vintage gardens still survive as part of private residences, such as the Rustic Bridge, Grecian Pergola (now part of a home), stone ticket booth, foundations of outbuildings, stone pathways, small bridges, fountains, and waterways, many visible from the street. The Old Mill still survives as a private residence, visible from the Northeast corner of Stoneridge Dr. and Madeline Dr.