Verdugo Views: Revisiting the famed Casa Verdugo

Piedad Yorba Sowl was a woman before her time. She operated a series of Spanish restaurants in this area in the early 1900s and, in doing so, popularized California Spanish food, contributed to the romantic "Ramona" mythology of Southern California, and created a major tourist attraction.

She also introduced Glendale to Los Angeles and the nation.

So writes Sean Bersell, who has prepared a detailed profile of this remarkable woman as part of the Glendale Historical Society home tour of the Casa Verdugo area in northwest Glendale on Sept. 29.

In the early 1900s, Casa Verdugo was an independent settlement. It was not annexed by the city until 1926.

Sowl was descended from prominent early California settlers. Her mother was the granddaughter of Antonio Maria Lugo, land-grant holder of Rancho San Antonio, and the town of Yorba Linda was named after one of her grandfathers.

She was also related by marriage to our own José Maria Verdugo, who settled what later became Glendale.

Born in 1864, Sowl married Carlos Arguello in 1884 and they had two children — a son, Charles, and a daughter, Viola. Her husband abandoned the family around the time Viola was born and they divorced in 1897.

Left on her own with two children to raise, Sowl opened her first restaurant, El Famoso, in Los Angeles. It was a critical success but she struggled financially because of a lack of capital, Bersell noted.

To make ends meet, Sowl opened her home to boarders and in 1904 married one, a man named Charles Sowl. It was about this time that she got an offer to open a new restaurant way out in the foothills near Glendale.

L.C. Brand had brought the new Pacific Electric Railway here in 1904. The end of the line was at the top of Brand Boulevard, way up in Casa Verdugo, where the railway company had turned an old adobe into a restaurant, hoping to entice people to take the scenic ride out to Glendale.

The adobe was in a large tract between Brand and Louise, bordered by Stocker on the south and Randolph on the north. The railway leased the property to Sowl and she opened the restaurant in January 1905.

It was an immediate hit. News stories and society columns quickly supplied accounts of socially prominent residents, out-of-town visitors and conventioneers who dined out on the veranda or under "the Old Pepper Tree" or in the Adobe Room.

The interior was illuminated by electric lights, which dimmed whenever a trolley came by, Bersell added.

A few years later, Sowl and the railway company had a falling out and she moved her restaurant around the corner to her own home on North Louise. She took the Casa Verdugo name with her.

Within a few years she and Charles Sowl separated, leaving her once again on her own, but she persevered, operating a string of eating places in northwest Glendale until the mid-1930s.

Sowl left a major impact on this city, Bersell concluded. "Over the years, thousands of people, both around the area and throughout the nation, were introduced to Glendale by making the trek to Casa Verdugo for a meal and entertainment."

The Glendale Historical Society's "Classic Casa Verdugo" home tour on Sept. 29 will highlight the second Casa Verdugo restaurant, a private house built in 1907, in addition to several other dwellings in the vicinity.

In conjunction with the home tour, the historical society is presenting a lecture on "Casa Verdugo: Glendale's Red Car Suburb" at 7 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1320 N. Brand Blvd.

For more information and home tour tickets, go to www.GlendaleHistorical.org.

If you have questions, comments or memories to share, please write to Verdugo Views, c/o News-Press, 202 W. First St., second floor, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.

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