Manchester Boddy, publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News in the 1930s and ‘40s, once told his family that he thought he would be remembered more for the garden paradise he built in La Canada Flintridge than for his work as a newspaperman.
But the new Boddy Library at Descanso Gardens, which opened last month in the publisher’s former home, is a testament to both of his great loves: Gardening and newspapering. Alongside hundreds of books on horticulture and plant care sit 40 volumes of Boddy’s articles and correspondence, spanning his 26-year career as a publisher.
“I think it’s fitting that both sides of the man are displayed in one place,” said his grandson, William Manchester Boddy, who supplied the library with the publisher’s writings on an indefinite loan.
Descanso volunteer Yana Marshall said she decided to develop a horticultural library after finding hundreds of books donated to the gardens over the years stored away where no one could use them. Some are rare volumes dating to the 19th Century.
Because the library was Boddy’s personal library inside his home, Marshall said, she wanted to display some of his writings there.
“A lot of the editorials were written right here,” Marshall said last week, standing near the library’s large bay window overlooking a profusion of camellias. An old album contains a photograph of Boddy writing at a huge desk in front of that window.
Boddy built the house in 1938 and planted a garden that became famous for its roses and camellias. He lived there with his family until 1954, when he sold the 140-acre estate to Los Angeles County under the provision that it always would remain a public botanical garden.
Since then, his former home, now called the Hospitality House, has been used as an art gallery and administrative building. Until now, its library has been open to the public only once a year for a Christmas crafts show, Marshall said.
Many visitors to the gardens who had previously been in the library only at Christmastime were surprised to see it open last week. John Hall, 75, of Alhambra, stopped in front of a 1945 copy of the Daily News--one of five Los Angeles dailies in its time--and focused on the headline: “Big 3 Start Blunt Talks About A-Bomb.”
“I lived in this area and I read his newspaper,” Hall said. “I liked it because it was a tabloid. It was a narrow paper, and you could read it on the bus.”
The newspaper, which ceased publication in 1954, is unrelated to the currently published Daily News of Los Angeles.
Glendale resident Rosemarie Eugene, 78, who also visited the library last week, said she comes to Descanso Gardens often because she loves gardening. She was pleased to find that she now has access to an extensive library on gardening techniques, she said.
“I probably will use it in the future, now that I know it’s here,” she said.
Anyone can read the books in the library, but only members of the Descanso Gardens Guild can check them out, Marshall said. Annual membership fees are $25 per person, or $15 for students and senior citizens.
The library’s more than 1,000 books and periodicals were donated by individuals and organizations, such as former Guild member and roses hobbyist E. Eleanor Ingram and the Los Angeles-based Ecological Food Gardeners, Marshall said.
The Boddy collection formerly was on loan to the Ontario City Library, but when Marshall called William Boddy with her idea he approved its transfer to the Descanso Gardens library, Marshall said. The Ontario library also donated its own John S. Armstrong horticulture collection, which contained 500 books, said Guild President Gail Boatwright.
The Boddy Library’s books address topics ranging from plant care to agriculture to ecological politics. Among the rare books are U.S. patent volumes published in 1935 that list flowers hybridized about that time.
Next to the patent books is “The Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening” series, published in 1888. Propped open on the shelf is a hardback student workbook that includes botanical specimens collected by a high school student in 1917. A grade of “A-" is penciled inside the front cover.
Marshall plans to use this book as an example when she shows children how to collect specimens on botanical nature walks, she said.
The library also contains brand-new books and current periodicals, which Marshall bought with Guild funds. These range from how-to gardening books with glossy color photos to volumes of nature poetry by such famed authors as Eudora Welty and John Steinbeck.
Marshall also hopes to start a display of unpublished poetry contributed by area residents. “It’s too hard to get published these days, and we can share ideas by having them here in the library,” she said.
William Boddy of San Ramon said he was glad his grandfather’s writings would be available in Descanso Gardens for everyone to read.
“Something that’s written that never gets read, dies,” he said.
Boddy’s 11-volume collection of editorials, called “Views of the News,” contain articles crusading against municipal corruption, taxation and prohibition. Boddy also sometimes derided media giant William Randolph Hearst, who along with Los Angeles Times Publisher Harry Chandler represented Boddy’s competition.
William Boddy said he remembers how his grandfather explained communism during the Cold War in a way William Boddy later found to be “absolutely prophetic.”
“He said, ‘Bill, you know, I wouldn’t worry too much about that because communism is like a childhood disease. Some people get it, and some don’t, but those that do get it grow out of it, and it’s rarely fatal,’ ” William Boddy said.
Other volumes detail Boddy’s involvement in civic affairs and his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1950. Boddy, a big fan and acquaintance of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, lost the endorsement of the Democratic Party to Helen Gahagan Douglas. She won the primary but lost to Richard M. Nixon in the general election.
In 1952, Boddy sold the Daily News to Robert L. Smith and retired. Two years later, the newspaper ceased publication.
William Boddy said his grandfather would have been pleased to see that his library has become a resource for horticulture and history buffs. When Boddy’s writings were at the Ontario City Library, few people used them because no one knew they were there, he said.
“Now they’re really where they belong,” William Boddy said.