June 18, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

Sketching Brentwood

Nevada Senator John Percival Jones was a millionaire and a famous man when he came to Los Angeles in 1874. It surprised no one that he came with an agenda of things to accomplish. At the top of the wish list was a railroad to move silver from his mines in Panamint, California. The talk was that his railroad might continue to Salt Lake City and on across the country to the Atlantic, turning Los Angeles into an important destination like San Francisco.

(Remember, there was no railroad to Los Angeles. Even “Queen City†San Francisco was waiting for the transcontinental tracks to be finished. The last half of the 1800s, everyone with capital built a railroad. The great rail lines that would emerge, like Santa Fe and Southern Pacific, grew by absorbing other railroads.)

In 1872, Robert Baker purchased the enormous Rancho San Vicente y Santa Monica from Francisco Sepulveda’s heirs. He was planning a railroad and a town laid out along the coast. Partnering with a very wealthy and powerful man like Jones would make everything easier. In 1875, he sold Jones a two-thirds interest in the San Vicente lands. The Los Angeles and Independence Railroad was officially organized and purchase of rights-of-way began. There seemed little point in having a railroad to nowhere so in July, the first lots in the new town of Santa Monica were put up for auction with great success.

Not all of the Senator’s plans worked out as well as Santa Monica. The Panamint proved to be a short-lived bonanza. His Los Angeles and Independence Railroad never laid tracks beyond Los Angeles, but that wasn’t a total loss. Sold for a profit, they became part of the famous Pacific Electric “Red Car†system.

Another of Senator Jones’s plans that went awry was the “20-cent piece.†Jones was an important figure in Washington and an advocate for using Nevada’s enormous wealth of silver. Considered an expert on monetary matters, Jones used his influence to get authorization for a silver 20-cent coin. First issued in 1875, it was almost exactly the size of the already-familiar “quarter†and even used the same “Liberty Seated†design. There was an immediate outcry from the public about the confusing, un-needed coin.  It was only minted for two years. In 1878, legislation killed the coin though it is a valued collector’s item now, a mini-monument to Senator Jones.

The Miramar, at Wilshire and Ocean Avenue

Another monument is the Miramar, at Wilshire and Ocean Avenue. It was here that Jones built an elegant Victorian home for his family in 1888. A spacious 30 rooms, they lived there until shortly before the Senator’s death. The turreted mansion was converted into a hotel in the 1920s and then torn down for the present building in 1938. Miramar (Sea View) remains the name, echoing Senator Jones’s love of sitting in his garden and looking out over the Pacific.

In that garden is one of California’s most magnificent Moreton Bay fig trees.  These beautiful natives of Australia grow to huge proportions. The largest in the United States is a treasure of Santa Barbara. The Miramar tree is nearly as gigantic at 80 feet tall and with a 120-foot canopy of branches. According to legend, a sailor fresh off a ship from the South Seas…and very thirsty…drank more than he could pay for at a Santa Monica saloon.  He gave the bartender his only possession, a Moreton sapling. The bartender gave the sapling to Mrs. Jones, for Miramar’s extensive gardens. That was well over a century ago but the tree still lives in protected splendor, a Santa Monica historic landmark. A pleasant green way to remember Santa Monica’s founder and an important figure in Westside history.

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