“A Glimpse of the Garden at Sunshine Cottage”: Una Nixson Hopkins’ Model Neighbors

In 1911 Una Nixson Hopkins published her only novel, A Winter Romance in Poppy Land (Boston: Richard G. Badger).  Remembered now largely as an architect and interior designer, as well as a Hollywood art director, she was also a frequent contributer of articles and short stories to magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal.  The plot of A Winter Romance in Poppy Land is very much in the vein of such magazine fiction:  George Oliver and June Winthrop, both visiting Pasadena, fall in love, but June rejects him when an overheard conversation suggests his complicity in a jewel theft from their hotel.  Once June learns that Oliver is an aspiring playwright and the conversation concerned a plot twist in his latest work (the actual theft was a mere coincidence), she yields to his advances and the two announce their engagement.  “An interesting love story with rather an unusual plot of misunderstandings,” concludes a contemporary reviewer in Out West, commending the book’s affectionately “vivid and true” depictions of its California settings (James 59).

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Frontispiece (featuring Julia S. Holmes and “our gardener John”) and title page of A Winter Romance in Poppy Land, previously owned by the Dewey family of Pasadena, Calif.

The characters are all stock figures (distressingly so in the case of the African-American gardener, Japanese servants, and Hispanic locals), but when it came to choosing models for the photographic illustrations of her tale, Hopkins eschewed stock in favor of her Pasadena neighbors.  Uncredited in the book itself, their identities are revealed in an eight-page manuscript tucked into the copy recently donated to the Penn Libraries by Caroline F. Schimmel as part of the Collection of Women in the American Wilderness.

The manuscript, written in pencil on two folded sheets of paper, is undated and anonymous, assuming its audience’s familiarity with all the people and places it mentions.  “This was my mother’s book given by her to her sister Caroline and returned to Mama by the family when her sister died,” the author begins.* “I thought it might be interesting to the neighbors. Yesterday the authoress told us that they would probably laugh at the story, but I know they will be engaged by the circumstances surrounding it.”

006

P. [4-5] of Nettie Dewey Warren’s manuscript identifying the neighbors who posed for the illustrations in A Winter Romance in Poppy Land

After a brief encomium to “the authoress,” Una Nixson Hopkins, “a most delightful and interesting person” who “designed and built the house Mrs. West now lives in, the Clark house, and Miss Moores [sic] house on Congress Place, and many more on South Orange Grove,” the writer relates her own tale of unrequited love and neighborhood friendships:

When my brother was about seventeen he had “a case” on a beautiful girl living in Altadena and sold the West house to her mother for Mrs. Hopkins. Mrs. Hopkins was then living in the house next to you. (Miss Tuttle’s). She chose (Mrs. Hopkins I mean) Julia the beautiful girl next door, for the heroine of her story and her mother for the mother part, and our gardener John who worked for my mother for over twenty years. (I wager Allan will remember him if you do not.) George Stimson was the hero, probably you know who he is.

Mrs. Holmes and Julia (the beautiful girl and her mother) and George Stimson and John are in the pictures which were all taken in our garden, the chariot races excepted. Well, my brother went to Andover and Yale, and Julia married Sidney Francis son of the governor of Misssouri [sic].

They built that beautiful house on Grand Avenue and are the parents of the glamour girl Mimi, who has been pictured in Life several times. They lived in New York a number of years but returned to Pasadena during my illness and Julia gave me a chance to see Mimi. She is beautiful and, of course, the boys are thrilled by her.

Mrs. Holmes died just before Mama did they were the dearest of friends and certainly made a path way between the Holmes house and Sunshine Cottage. I have always loved Julia and she is just as sweet as ever.

My explanation is as long as “In Poppy Land” and I hope you are not tired out with it … If some one of you will pass it on to Mr. and Mrs. Stafford I will be grateful, perhaps this volume better go with it.

SunshinePlate

Bookplate of Sunshine Cottage

Though the manuscript is unsigned, the author drops enough clues to disclose her identity:  Nettie L. Warren (1864-1943), née Dewey, the daughter of Annett (“Nettie”) Dewey (née Springer; ca. 1846-1929) and Chicago financier David Brainard Dewey (1838-1898).  Raised in Evanston, Illinois, young Nettie first married Henry S. Farwell (1861-1909), nephew of the merchant and philanthropist John V. Farwell, in 1884; after their divorce in 1905, she married Edward Spaulding Warren (1871-1949), professor of music and director of the Mandolin and Guitar Club at Throop Institute (precursor to Caltech).  Together with her mother and younger brother David Brainard Dewey, Jr. (1888-1972) they lived at “Sunshine Cottage,” 351 Congress Place in Pasadena, which had been the family’s summer home while the elder David was alive.  According to Pasadena city directories, Una Nixson Hopkins resided next door at number 333 from 1905 to 1909 and Warren credits her with the design of three other houses in the same block:

  • “the house Mrs. West now lives in” — i.e. 285 Congress Place, home of Mrs. Helen S. West (née Ball; 1872-1959) from 1926 to 1940 (possibly as late as 1942, but I was unable to confirm this)
  • “the Clark house” — i.e. 360 Congress Place, home of Dr. William A. Clark (1882-1965?) and family from 1928 to 1940 (possibly as late as 1942, as above)
  • “Miss Moores house” — i.e. 310 Congress Place, where Miss Irene H. Moore (1886-1988) lived 1924-1925 and 1927-1940 (possibly as late as 1942, as above)

From these and subsequent data I am inclined to date this manuscript to about 1940 and to identify its initial intended audience as the Grimwoods of 311 Congress Place, on the other side of number 333 from Sunshine Cottage.  J. Bryant Grimwood (1873-1953) and his wife Frances (née Allen; 1881-1967) lived at number 311 from 1923 to at least 1943 (by 1947 they had moved elsewhere); their youngest son, Allen (1918-2009), is probably the “Allan” who Nettie believed would remember John the gardener.  “Mr. and Mrs. Stafford,” to whom the Grimwoods were to give manuscript and book, would be Edward O. (1859-1956) and Nellie F. (1860-1950) Stafford of 288 Congress Place, where they resided from 1924 until at least 1949.  (Edward Stafford appears to have left the neighborhood after his wife’s death.)

As for the characters in Warren’s story, her brother David would have been seventeen in 1905 when he had his “case” on Julia Holmes and sold “the West house” (number 285, at the opposite end of the block from Sunshine Cottage) to her mother.  According to city directories, Mrs. Julia M. Holmes (née Potwin; 1852-1927) changed residences from 1340 N. Raymond Avenue in Pasadena (near Altadena, but not within its boundaries) in 1905 to 285 Congress Place in 1906.  She and her daughter Julia S. Holmes (1888-1967) and son John R. Holmes, Jr. (1877-1927), lived there until 1909.  “[O]ur gardener John” sadly eludes identification, but “George Stimson” is undoubtedly the architect G. Lawrence Stimson (1882-1939), very likely a professional as well as a personal acquaintance of Hopkins, living three blocks away on “Millionaire’s Row” at 391 S. Orange Grove Boulevard (subsequently the home of William Wrigley, Jr., and now the headquarters of the Tournament of Roses Association).

PoppyPlates

Two illustrations for A Winter Romance in Poppy Land from photographs taken by Frederick W. Martin in the garden of Sunshine Cottage. The one on the left features Julia S. Holmes, Mrs. Julia M. Holmes, and G. Lawrence Stimson; the one on the right, Mrs. Holmes and the Deweys’ gardener John.

Though the models were all amateurs, their pictures were professionally taken:  two (reproduced immediately above) are signed by Frederick W. Martin (1877-1949), a Pasadena photographer just beginning his career, having opened his studio at 137 W. Colorado Boulevard in 1907.  The others are credited to Harold A. Parker (1878-1930), who took the earliest aerial photographs of Pasadena, and Ferdinand Ellerman (1869-1940), best known for his astronomical work in collaboration with George Ellery Hale

As Warren notes, although the novel’s romance prospered, her brother’s crush on Julia Holmes did not.  David Dewey graduated Phillips Academy Andover in 1909 and continued on to Yale and to marriage with Gladys Gardner (1888-1983), a fellow Pasadenan; Julia Holmes made her debut in Saint Louis in the winter of 1913-1914 and promptly became engaged to local lawyer Edwin W. Lee (1875-1942).  Their wedding date was set for June of 1914, but was postponed due to some illness on Lee’s part (“Sidney Francis and Miss Holmes Wed” 36).  Julia, returning to Pasadena, then astonished her friends by eloping in October with playboy Sidney R. Francis (1888-1960), youngest son of Missouri politician David R. Francis (“Pasadena Girl is Bride” 3). She may subsequently have repented this rash choice:  Francis proved incapable of settling down either to a profession or to monogamy.  As well as a serial adulterer, he was, in the words of his father’s biographer, “a gambler, a luckless oil wildcatter, and an unsucessful entrepreneur” — in those of his son, Sidney Rowland, Jr. (1916-2006), “a born loser” (Barnes 393).  Nevertheless, the couple had two children, the aforementioned Sidney and Emilie (“Mimi”) Holmes (later Cushman; 1919-2003) and in 1929 built the “beautiful house on Grand Avenue” — 415 S. Grand Avenue — where Julia lived until at least 1935.  She moved to New York City in 1937 where “the glamour girl Mimi” made her debut in 1938, after which she briefly pursued a theatrical career (“Dates for Debutante Parties” 27; “Another Debutante” 14).  If my dating of this manuscript is correct, mother and daughter returned to Pasadena around 1940 (in 1943 the city directory gives their address as 841 S. Oak Knoll Avenue, only a couple of miles from Sunshine Cottage); both women eventually settled in the city permanently (Mimi after service as a WAVE, a stint as a State Department employee, and marriage to Robert L. Cushman) (“Cushman” 32).

We are fortunate book and manuscript were preserved together, as Warren wished, to give us this glimpse, not only of the garden at Sunshine Cottage, but of an early- to mid-twentieth-century Pasadena neighborhood.


Note

*The book also has a manuscript inscription (“To Carrie with love and a glimpse of the gardens at Sunshine Cottage”) on its front endleaf in the hand of Nettie Springer Dewey recording the gift of this volume to her sister Caroline (“Carrie”) Gregory (née Springer; 1848-1920) of Rockford, Ill.  Born in New York, the sisters emigrated with their family to Rockford in childhood, where Carrie remained until her death.


Works Cited

“Another Debutante Takes Cafe Singing Job.” Philadelphia Inquirer, morning edition (23 February 1939): 14.

Barnes, Harper. Standing on a Volcano: The Life and Times of David Rowland Francis. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2001.

“Cushman, Emilie ‘Mimi’ Francis” [obituary]. Saint Louis Post-Dispatch (29 March 2003): 32.

“Dates for Debutante Parties Announced.” New York Sun (2 November 1938): 27.

James, George Wharton.  “Under the Study Lamp.”  Out West 4.1 (July 1912): 58-59.

“Pasadena Girl Is Bride of Francis.”  Los Angeles Herald, sporting edition (10 October 1914): 3.

“Sidney Francis and Miss Holmes Wed in California.” Saint Louis Post-Dispatch (11 October 1914): 36.


Liz Broadwell has a doctorate in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania and catalogs rare books in the Special Collections Processing Center.

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