Spencer Robinson was one of the early pioneers of Glendale, arriving here the same year Glendale became a city. He later served as the city’s first mayor.
Robinson brought with him an illustrious history. Not only was he descended from old American Colonial stock, he was an accomplished singer who had often appeared in concert.
A native of Illinois, he was born to Dean and Julia (Spencer) Robinson. His mother was descended from a prominent English line, according to one of Robinson’s relatives, Steve Hunt. Hunt and his wife, Susan, who live here in Glendale, have done extensive research on Robinson.
Robinson’s Spencer ancestors left England for Massachusetts in the early 1600s. His grandfather, John Winchell Spencer, was among the first settlers at Rock Island, Illinois; serving as the first county judge and donating the land and funds to erect a Methodist Church in that city.
His mother, Julia Spencer, was a founding member of the Rock Island chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and was also a member of the Colonial Dames. In 1859, she married Dean Tyler Robinson, a lumber dealer, and member of another old colonial family. Their son, Spencer, was born in 1868.
As a young man, Spencer Robinson worked on riverboats. After graduating from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania in 1891, he became a traveling salesman for the Rock Island Plow Company, covering the state of Iowa, all the while developing his tenor voice and considering a career as a professional singer.
Three years after graduation, he made the decision to concentrate on a singing career. He moved to Chicago to study voice and began performing in concerts. Then he embarked on a concert tour that included Great Britain and Europe, studying, performing and later teaching.
According to the Glendale News-Press, March 19, 1955, Robinson sang on the opera stage in Chicago and also on the Chautauqua circuit and with several prominent evangelists of the day, including Billy Sunday. He was in his early 30s by 1900 when he made his first trip to Los Angeles to perform at the Hazard Pavilion on Hill Street with evangelist Bob Burdette. He also appeared at the First Methodist Church, where his uncle, Reverend Romaine S. Cantine was the minister, according to Hunt.
Robinson was so impressed with this area that he returned and, in 1906, purchased a 12-acre tract in the Windsor Road area. He and his wife, Bertha (Sonntag) and their children, Julia, Jean and Dean, lived at 1234 East Windsor Road. He soon purchased additional acreage and then sold them as residential lots. In 1912 he turned to real estate, with an office at 612 East Broadway.
He and another real estate agent facilitated the change of Sixth Street to Colorado Street, so the street name would conform to Colorado Boulevard, which ran through Eagle Rock and Pasadena, according to “Glendale Area History.” At one point, he was also a partner in a car dealership, the Tupper-Robinson Company.
An advertisement in the Glendale Evening News, March 15, 1912, describes a Maxwell Messenger, a new two-cylinder,16-horsepower roadster that was said to cost less than a four-cylinder car and go just as far and almost as fast. The cost? $675.
Robinson was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1919 and served for three terms. During that time, a city charter was adopted and he was elected as the first mayor under the new charter.
Readers Write: George Ellison of Special Collections answers a query (Verdugo Views, July 10, 2011) regarding the origin of Willard Avenue in Northwest Glendale. “Willard Avenue, from 6200 San Fernando Road, was laid out through a subdivision handled by Willard Fry and was given his name.” Willard runs between San Fernando and Glenoaks Boulevard.