A recent revelation that Leslie Combs Brand, the so-called Father of Glendale, probably fathered two children with a secret mistress came as a shock to many, but local history enthusiasts are downright delighted.
Longtime Los Angeles Times columnist Cecilia Rasmussen, who concluded her “L.A. Then and Now” history column with the piece on Brand on April 6, backed up her scoop with a DNA test that linked Brand to a descendant of his alleged mistress, Birdie Esther Carpenter Gordon.
And in doing so, lovers of local lore say Rasmussen confirmed a juicy rumor that had been percolating for years.
“It’s been kind of a Holy Grail of speculation for a long time,” said Arlene Vidor, president of the Glendale Historical Society. “There’s been a lot of unofficial hearsay and discussion about it for some time.”
Vidor and Rasmussen both point out that the DNA test cannot be treated as definitive, but the story is lent additional credibility by Brand biographer Judy Brand, whose husband was L.C. Brand’s great-nephew and whose own research helped her reach the same conclusion without DNA.
And descendants of Gordon say that her late son, Lee Gordon, was a spitting image of the man who built El Miradero, the 5,000-square-foot Moorish residence on the north Glendale estate and left it for the city to create the Brand Library and Brand Park.
“It appears that the parties involved — Judy Brand and the Gordons — they’re not doubtful, so the circumstantial evidence and documented evidence all come together to make you feel that it is true,” Vidor said.
But is it time to rewrite Glendale’s history books?
The city’s acting director of libraries Cindy Cleary says probably not.
“I don’t think it rewrites his story,” Cleary said. “It just makes his personal story a little more interesting. We were always digging for more information about him. I think Mr. Brand had a very rich and interesting life, and I think it just adds to that life, and it makes the story a little spicier, but it’s a long time ago and it doesn’t diminish our feelings about Mr. Brand and what he did for the city.”
For Rasmussen, who will speak about the story on May 7 at a Historical Society-sponsored event at the Brand Library, the story capped about a year’s worth of research and a more than 20-year career chronicling the history of the Los Angeles region.
Along the way, tracking down historical nuggets has shown her that many societal patterns stay the same, she said.
“What I’ve found is nothing’s changed from today to 100 or 200 years ago,” Rasmussen said. “People still have affairs, and people are still murdered, so there’s always the juicy tidbits of history that people like to read.”
Mike Lawler, president of the Crescenta Valley Historical Society, said he hadn’t heard the rumors about Brand’s secret life, but reading about them has infused humanity into a name that many associate only with Glendale’s main boulevard.
“I don’t revere people in the past any more than I revere people in the present: They were human too, and building them up to be all good, it just flattens their character out, so I really enjoy it when I get to hear some human story about some guy from the past,” Lawler said. “So for me, I love it.”