Creating advocates for history through the stories of greater Los Angeles.
by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The latest of the “La La Landscapes” series of posts about gardens and landscaping in greater Los Angeles looks at Busch Gardens, which was a highly popular public park in Pasadena visited by over a million people from 1906 to 1938. The Homestead has a set of seven snapshots taken at the gardens in August 1923 and March 1925 that show some of the beauty and distinctiveness of the 38-acre facility, built by beer baron Adolphus Busch.
Born in 1839 in a town near Mainz, Germany, Busch was the son of a prominent businessman and was well educated. After a stint working in a lumberyard owned by his father, Busch spent time in Cologne, along the Rhine River, before migrating to the U.S. at age 18.
Winding up in another river town, St. Louis, the young man was a shipping clerk until an inheritance received after the death of his father led to the formation of his first business in 1859. Among the items sold in this mercantile establishment were materials for brewing.
A customer was Eberhard Anheuser, a soap maker with a side brewing business, and the relationship turned very personal when Busch married Anheuser’s daughter Lilly (Busch’s older brother married Lilly’s sister, too, in a double family wedding!) By 1865, Anheuser was too busy with his soap factory to pay enough attention to the brewery, so his son-in-law came on board.
His skills in management, leadership and knowing the ins-and-outs of beermaking led Busch to take what was called the Bavarian Brewery to great success as what, by 1880, was called the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association.
The first major American brewery to sign a contract with a labor union, Anheuser-Busch even had a “happiness fund,” which included retiree pensions, aid for the families of workers in need, and entertainment for company employees, both trends picked up by others in the industry and beyond later.
The company also became the country’s best-selling beermaker by the end of the 19th century and the appellation “King of Beers” was at least justified by sales. He jumped on the concept of refrigerated railroad cars so that he could ship his product to wider areas of the country. In addition, he pioneered the pasteurization of beer from the mid-1870s onward, which eliminated the spoilage problems that limited the reach of Budweiser and other company products.
Busch was an investor in a wide array of other business endeavors, including railroads, diesel engines, electric power generation, banking and much more. A fabulously wealthy man during the height of the “Gilded Age,” he owned large residences in St. Louis, New York, Germany and Pasadena, traveled in a private rail car, and entertained lavishly. For his 50th wedding anniversary, in 1911, at an affair at his Pasadena residence, Busch, nicknamed “The Prince” had his wife seated on a throne and presented her with a crown valued at $200,000.
Yet, he was often generous to employees and made large gifts to universities for studies in medicine, science, and German culture, including a museum for the latter at Harvard. He gave to many charities in St. Louis and was a prominent figure in the holding of the 1904 World’s Fair in that city.
He acquired his domain in Pasadena, off Orange Grove Avenue, called “Millionaire’s Row,” and to the west in 1904, acquiring a house and then developing the gardens that he opened to the public a couple of years later. It had winding paths, lawns, and some 100,000 varieties of plantings on a landscape that featured some steep gullies and ravines. But, through extensive filling and grading, the area was turned into a gentler series of terraces.
Notably, there were evidently no drawings or plans and photographs of the construction of the garden apparently were not taken. A major winter storm in 1905 destroyed much of the work in progress and extensive work in redoing the work and installing a complex set of drainage pipes had to be done. In 1906, the “Upper Gardens” of 14 acres were opened to the public.
Another area of 16 acres, dubbed the “Lower Gardens” was more rustic and less formal than its predecessor and work started there about the time the “Upper Gardens” were opened. In summer 1909, the pair were opened to the public with free admission every day of the week. Fairy tale figurines, a replica of a mill, waterfalls and ponds, and topiary were among the favorite attractions. Easter egg hunts, carnivals, concerts, and other events were held there.
Adolphus Busch died of a heart attack in fall 1913, but his widow and family continued to keep the gardens in operation for another quarter century. When it was decided to close the facility, the family offered the gardens to the City of Pasadena for a park on two occasions, but the city refused. The land was sold and subdivided for housing, though there are elements of the park that still exist, including the replica mill, portions of water features, fencing, a stone pillar here and there, and others.
There are some good websites with information on Busch and his gardens. Check out this State Historical Society of Missouri site for biographical information on the brewing tycoon; this Pasadena Gardens site for good material on the establishment of the gardens; and this Pasadena Star-News article detailing the work Michael Logan and Gary Cowles did to unearth remnants of the gardens.