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A place for weary travelers

CRAIG BULLOCK

Until the 1880s, Burbank was a vast open space with few inhabitants.

Burbank’s appearance at that time, along with the rest of the San

Fernando Valley, was more a remnant of the ranchos under Spanish and

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Mexican rule than the more developed eastern portions of the United

States.

The land booms of the 1880s, in part triggered by the westward

extension of the railroads, would reshape Burbank. Dr. David Burbank,

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the city’s founder and a successful developer, owned vast amounts of

this open space and served as one of the directors of the Providencia

Land, Water and Devselopment Co. The company, with the help of Dr.

Burbank, embarked on an ambitious plan for development.

Plans for development began with the building of wide roads and

stores in the downtown area, including the construction of a

horse-drawn streetcar line that went from the Southern Pacific train

depot to Sunset Canyon. This streetcar would take newcomers to the

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“Boom Houses” that were being constructed (the Mentzer House, the

sole surviving “Boom House,” is now part of the Gordon R. Howard

Museum complex at 1035 Olive Ave.).

There was one particular obstacle to Burbank’s development: There

was no place for new arrivals to stay once they arrived. Dr.

Burbank and his son-in-law, John W. Griffin, solved that dilemma with

the construction of the Burbank Villa, the city’s first hotel.

Construction on the Burbank Villa began in 1887 and was completed

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in 1888 at a cost of $30,000. Workers lived in tents during

construction and regularly fought off rattlesnakes after a hard day’s

labor. When completed, the three-story Victorian hotel was the

grandest structure in Burbank and was intended to impress those who

had just arrived. In less than a year, Providencia Land, Water and

Develop- ment Co. saw sales reach $475,000.

The Burbank Villa quickly became the social hub of the young town.

The hotel was managed by D.D. Clemence, who ensured that his guests

received the royal treatment. The large and lavishly decorated rooms

and services were foreign to many of the visitors and tourists who

stayed there. Guests were clearly impressed with the Burbank Villa,

and it contributed greatly to people’s attraction to Burbank.

The land boom of the 1880s, however, collapsed. Only a handful of

“Boom Houses” were constructed. The new arrivals that flowed into

Burbank dried up and the Burbank Villa’s business suffered

dramatically. No longer able to sustain itself as a business, the

hotel became a private home. Its life as a private residence was not

to last long, though.

In the early 1900s, May Clark purchased the hotel and renamed it

the Santa Rosa Hotel. The hotel underwent many renovations, which

included hundreds of yards of red and green-figured carpet, rose

gardens, croquet grounds, a tennis court and dance floor. The hotel

reopened with great success.

The hotel, along with the rest of Burbank, lacked a restaurant,

and Mrs. Clark quickly set out to remedy that. In 1909, nine women began serving reasonably priced lunches at the hotel. They were all

uniformly dressed in long white aprons with lavender-trimmed flowers

and laced beading. The women became known as the Lavender Salad Club.

The group of ladies later became the Burbank Women’s Club.

Like the Burbank Villa, the Santa Rosa became the social hub of

Burbank. Many parties and weddings were held at the hotel. The beauty

and elegance of the hotel became popular not only with those who had

just arrived in Burbank, but also those living in Los Angeles who

wanted to get away. Perhaps the most famous guest at the hotel was

film star Billie Burke, who was best known for her role as Glinda the

good witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”

By 1919, business at the Santa Rosa had tapered off, and its

financial success as a hotel was over. The construction of newer

hotels, coupled with the announcement of the construction of the

Sunset Canyon Country Club, which opened in 1921, gave people more

options for accommodations. The Santa Rosa was closed as a hotel and

was converted to an apartment/boarding house by Clark. The renovated

structure consisted of 12 to 14 apartments, 23 single rooms and a

garage for eight to 10 vehicles.

By 1927, the structure had become significantly run down, and

Clark’s dreams of grandeur had faded. The Santa Rosa was sold to the

U.S. Postal Service and torn down. The parcel sat empty for nearly 10

years before the Olive Avenue Post Office -- now a historic landmark

-- was constructed.

Today, Burbank has many hotels that provide accommodations to

countless people every year. The successful hotel industry that has

rapidly grown in Burbank got its start with the Burbank Villa.

* CRAIG BULLOCK, chairman of the Burbank Heritage Commission,

writes a history column for the Leader.


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