Verdugo Views: Facts just might get in the way of a legend

There's an old saying, "a rose is a rose is a rose," and, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, I'd like to say "a legend is a legend is a legend."

I'm referring to the “Legend of Montrose.” But in this case, it turns out the legend regarding the beginnings of Montrose is based on some inaccurate information. That's what Robert Newcombe, author of the new book “Montrose,” has discovered.

The “Legend of Montrose” is not just slightly inaccurate, he says. In fact, “some of it is wrong. Factually wrong. I thought it was right when I wrote it, but I have since learned otherwise.”

Newcombe explained the “Legend of Montrose.”

• Developers Holmes and Walton held a contest to name their new community.

• The name Montrose was chosen after Montrose, Pa., a small town in the winner's home state.

• They picked the name because:

• It appealed to all the rose fanciers in the area and because of the popularity of Sir Walter Scott's “The Legend of Montrose.”

“The legend has been written about for at least 45 years and probably longer than that,” Newcombe said. “Mike Lawler and I repeated it in our first two books.” And some of it was repeated on the back cover of Newcombe's new book.

He explained how the new book came about. “With the Montrose centennial approaching, I suggested to Mike that we do a history book in time for the celebration. Mike replied ‘great idea, but I'm overbooked and overcommitted, so you have to write it alone.'”

Newcombe contacted Arcadia Publishing, which has produced several other local history books. “They said ‘great idea but we're overbooked and overcommitted.'”

Then, suddenly Arcadia emailed him with good news: They wanted to publish his book. The bad news: They needed the cover photo and text by the following Monday and the whole book in six weeks.

Newcombe made that first deadline. The back cover text was based on the “Legend of Montrose.”

And then, Lawler mentioned to Newcombe that local historian Mike Morgan had been researching the topic for years and hadn't found any evidence of the naming contest. “He doesn't think it happened,” Lawler added.

So, then, Newcombe met with both Mikes. “Mike Morgan had a lot of questions. ‘What do I know about Holmes? Do I even know his first name? Where did Walton get the money to do this? He came from a simple background and had a civil servant job in the 1890s; how did he raise this much money?'”

“I didn't know the answers,” Newcombe said. “I just wanted to know about the contest.”

Morgan told Newcombe that he had searched the Los Angeles Times database, the Special Collections Room in the Glendale Library, plus a lot of microfilm, and found nothing. The only place he hadn't looked was in the archives of the Los Angeles Express, only available on microfilm in the downtown Los Angeles library.

“My initial reaction to all this was ‘When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.'” But, since he works downtown, he decided to visit the library on his lunch hour.

And there, Newcombe discovered the “real truth” behind the legend. More to come in future Verdugo View columns.


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