n the late 19th century, luxury hotels sprang up across Southern California, inviting tourists to escape the frosty East Coast and winter under the region’s sunny skies. Unlike Los Angeles’ first hotel, the rowdy Bella Union, these establishments presented themselves as havens for sophisticated crowds of well-heeled tourists. Set far away from the gritty boomtown of Los Angeles, these hotels welcomed their East Coast guests to Southern California’s natural splendor.
Among the most famous of these establishments was the Raymond Hotel. Perched atop Raymond Hill in what is today South Pasadena, the hotel offered commanding views of the then-pastoral San Gabriel Valley countryside.
“We have two long windows in each room and the view is magnificent,” guest Amy Bridges wrote in her diary during her 1886 visit. “The hotel is on a hill and we look down over the valleys with their orange groves and vineyards and cultivated fields.” To the north were the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains. To the south — on a clear day — views stretched to the Pacific Ocean.
When it opened in 1886, the hotel filled a void that Los Angeles’ forward-thinking business community had bemoaned for several years.
Since even before the Southern Pacific’s transcontinental line connected Los Angeles with the rest of the nation in 1876, boosters had praised Southern California as a wonderland where crops flourished and ailments like tuberculosis faded in the region’s mild, sunny climate. The 1884 publication of Helen Hunt Jackson’s “Ramona” added a veneer of romance to the region’s past, and the forthcoming arrival of the Santa Fe Railway and resulting rate war would drive down transcontinental fares from $100 to $1.
But, as Megan McLeod Kendrick explains in her 2009 dissertation, “Stay in L.A.: Hotels and the Representation of Urban Public Space in Los Angeles, 1880s-1950s,” the lack of proper upscale accommodations prevented Southern California from reaching its full potential as a resort destination. When the first tourists with the Boston-based Raymond & Whitcomb excursion company arrived in Los Angeles in the spring of 1882, they lodged at the Cosmopolitan but stayed for only one day before departing for Yosemite Valley.
Hotels like the Cosmopolitan and its competitors, the St. Charles (formerly the Bella Union) and Pico House, offered well-appointed rooms but — located in the heart of the city — lacked the resort-like setting that drew visitors to places like Saratoga Springs and Atlantic City on the East Coast or Charles Crocker’s Hotel Del Monte in Monterey.
On April 12, 1882, the Los Angeles Times proposed a remedy: a hotel set far away from the city one excursionist described as “dirty,” a city still prone to frontier violence and — despite racial segregation — a place where people of different ethnicities and social strata mixed. The hotel, the Times opined, “should not be flanked all around by business houses, but be removed from the turmoil of commerce, and occupy an eminence from which as much of the country as possible can be seen. Such places we have, and a hotel of ample dimensions once erected upon the hill overlooking the city and valleys and the means of reaching it easily provided, there would be no lack of patronage for it, and the thousands of dollars that bella now slip through our fingers would remain here to enrich us all.”
In 1883, Walter Raymond of Raymond & Whitcomb answered the Times’ call, announcing plans for a palatial winter hotel. The spot he selected — an outcropping of bedrock named Bacon Hill — fit the newspaper’s description perfectly. Located several miles from the city, it was surrounded by citrus groves and open fields of the Marengo Ranch, which stretched south from the nascent town of Pasadena. And though its remote location also placed it far from the region’s existing transportation infrastructure, the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Valley Railroad, which was then planning to build a line through the area, supported Raymond’s venture by locating a depot at the base of Bacon Hill.