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
Mexican rule than the more developed eastern portions of the United
The land booms of the 1880s, in part triggered by the westward
extension of the railroads, would reshape Burbank. Dr. David Burbank,
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
“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
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.