Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
With the annual Tournament of Roses parade and Rose Bowl football game just a few days away, here are another couple early cabinet card photographs from the Homestead’s collection of the parade in its first years.
The first image was taken by well-known Pasadena photographer William H. Hill and is dated 1 January 1897. It depicts what was a pretty common type of entry in the parade in those early days. Two young women, dressed in flowing white dresses and gaily decorated hats and sporting floral necklaces (almost akin to the Hawaiian lei) sit in a small two-wheeled carriage (a Meadowbrook cart perhaps?) pulled by a single horse. The conveyance is pretty thoroughly covered in flowers and the harness has vines on the traces, straps and bit collar. The vehicle is parked on a very wide walk in front of luxurious landscaping in what looks to be a residential neighborhood.
The second photograph appears to be from about the same time and is captioned “Maj. Bonebrake’s Pony Six-In-Hand.” The image shows a significantly upgraded carriage than that in the Hill photograph. The four-wheeled conveyance has three rows of seats, including that used by the driver, and is covered. Atop the cover is some kind of coat-of-arms (perhaps for the Bonebrake name). The six equines pulling their vehicle are individually bedecked in vines on their bit collars and there are saddle blankets to boot. Only a couple of them, however, managed to stand still for the photographer! The background is not as ornate as that in the Hill image, with plainer landscaping and what looks like a barn at the far right.
As to the gentleman whose fantastic surname is identified with the entry vehicle, Major George H. Bonebrake was a notable financial figure in late 19th century Los Angeles. Born in 1838 in Washington Township, Ohio, west of Dayton and near the Indiana border, Bonebrake was a rarity for his time, being a graduate in classics from Otterbein University. After a brief period teaching, studying law and editing a small newspaper, he enlisted with an infantry regiment from Indiana to fight in the Civil War. He left the service in October 1865 as a major and returned to Indiana.
For a couple of years, Bonebrake was a partner in the law firm of a prominent former member of Congress in Indianapolis, but was offered a position as a bank clerk. He married the cashier’s daughter and then he and his father-in-law opened their own bank in Noblesville, northeast of the state capital. When Bonebrake’s wife, Emma, contracted tuberculosis, the couple left their two children with her parents and headed for Los Angeles, which was developing a reputation for consumptives to seek cures. Unfortunately, Ella’s condition worsened and she died in 1880.
Remaining in Los Angeles and sending for his children, Bonebrake plowed himself into his work, first as a carriage dealer and then helping to found the Los Angeles National Bank in 1883. He was involved in the effort to bring the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad to the city and, when this was completed in 1885 providing Los Angeles with a direct transcontinental link to the east, the great Boom of the 1880s ensued.
Bonebrake, naturally, prospered, both from the banking and real estate elements of his work. He and banking partner, John Bryson, Sr., built one of Los Angeles’ most elegant business buildings, designed by noted San Francisco architect Joseph C. Newsom, at the corner of Spring and Second streets in 1889, just as the boom had crested and was beginning to wane.
Yet, his financial acumen was strong and he was a director of several other banks in Pasadena, Pomona, Santa Ana, Santa Monica and Santa Monica. The anchor tenant in his building was his State Loan and Trust Company. He was also involved with the California Central and San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit railroads. His “carriage depository” for the sales of horse-drawn vehicles did so well that it expanded to branches in Stockton, San Jose, Oakland and Portland, Oregon.
As a veteran, Bonebrake was nominated for and accepted as one of the managers of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, which included a branch west of Los Angeles recently covered in this blog, and served in this capacity in 1891 and 1892. He was also a director of the board of the Los Angeles city library from 1895 to 1897. He also served as president of the Los Angeles Board of Trade.
Bonebrake lived in an impressive home on Figueroa Street at Adams in what was at the time the fashionable area of the city. In 1922, the dwelling was razed and the Automobile Club of Southern California built its Spanish Colonial Revival headquarters, which it still occupies, on the site.
Bonebrake, however, suffered from what was called Bright’s disease and is now commonly referred to as nephritis, a kidney disease, and died at the end of October 1898. The presidents of local banks formed the ranks of pallbearers, including John M. Elliott, Herman Hellman and others and honorary pallbearers included local luminaries such as former newspaper publisher and author Benjamin C. Truman; Bryson; Frank Sabichi; General Edward Bouton; future U.S. senator Frank P. Flint; and banker and real estate investor Jonathan S. Slauson.
In an 1889 Los Angeles County history, which was bursting with the fulsome praise common for its type, Bonebrake was lionized in typical form:
To the sun-browned toiler, the sorrow-burdened child of poverty, the capitalist, count and congressman, he extends the same deferential, dignified, decisive attention. He possesses a large, well-poised brain, a vigorous mind, a strong sense of justice, and a kind, charitable heart.
Whether Bonebrake was quite as advertised, he was certainly a prominent man about town in his day. His experience as a carriage dealer and banker in Pasadena no doubt explained why his “six-in-hand” was prominently photographed for the Tournament of Roses parade.