Mountain Views News, Combined Edition Saturday, March 26, 2022

MVNews this week:  Page B:3

Mountain Views-News Saturday, March 26, 2022 A LITTLE WISTARIA HISTORY B3 Mountain Views-News Saturday, March 26, 2022 A LITTLE WISTARIA HISTORY B3 
The Vine 

Sierra Madre’s 128-Year Old Wistaria* Vine By Phyllis Chapman 


Phyllis Chapman, Sierra Madre's Historian and 
foremost authority on all things 'Wistaria', passed away 
in 2020. This year's festival, the first since 2019 will notonly be blessed with the presence of our beloved Phyllis,
but visitors will not be able to see the Grand Vine, whichis the the subject of this history. However there will be a 
tour of historic homes many of which also have splendid,
although smaller vines. Hopefully in 2023 we will be 
able to tour the Grand Vine again.

 In 1894, William and Alice Brugman

purchased a home on what was then called

Piedmont, which is now called W. Carter Ave. 

The house had been built one year before by

builder Amos Trussell for his daughter Winona

and son-in-law Edward B. Jones when they

married. It was the first wedding celebrated in

early Sierra Madre.

The Trussells and the Jones had a change of

plans, sold to the Brugmans and moved away.

To enhance her new home, Alice Brugman and

her neighbor Mrs. W. B. Crisp, drove by horse

and buggy to the R. H. Wilson Pioneer Nursery

in Monrovia and for $.75 purchased a gallon

can of wistaria. It was the Chinese Wistaria 

variety (Wisteria sinensis). She planted it in 

a corner of her front porch remarking to her

neighbor: “They say Wistaria grows fast.” And

grow it did. 

Mr. Brugman, a mining engineer, was inMexico when the vine was planted. He diedin 1899 and Mrs. Brugman sold the homein 1906. The property changed hands untilit was purchased in 1913 by Henry T. andEstelle Fennel. Mr. Fennel, who was a bit of 
a horticulturist, loved the vine, and gave itdevoted care, even building support trellises. 

Although the Wistaria is a vigorous grower,
the added support of the trellises may havecontributed to this vine’s phenomenal growth.
The arbors prevented the end tendrils fromhanging down and causing the tender terminalbuds to die from the added weight. Wistaria 
requires good drainage, certainly provided bythis hilly, terraced location. There may also bean underground spring providing water to the 
tap root. 

The vine eventually destroyed the originalhome, growing into the walls and fireplace andcausing the roof to collapse. Mr. Fennel builta new home 200 feet to the north (the presentupper home) and trained the vine to grow up to,
but not covering the new residence. A portion ofthe foundation of that original home was savedto continue to provide support for the vine as itsbranches extended such a distance. 

When the vine was in bloom, the Fennels 
would invite friends to come and enjoy theblossoming plant. Visitors also came from 

Pasadena’s main hotels: The Green, The 

Huntington, and The Raymond. In 1918, theFennels opened the vine to the Sierra MadreChapter of the American Red Cross, whichsponsored a very successful fundraiser to helpthe war effort. 12,000 people attended theevent. This was the beginning of many Wistariafestivals that took place year after year. SierraMadre became known as the Wistaria City.
Many local organizations, including the Boardof Trade (now the Chamber of Commerce), theWoman’s Club, the Masons and Eastern Star, 
the Sierra Madre Volunteer Fire Dept., etc. wereinvolved. 

Many homemade items, fancy work, ceramics,
artwork, gift books, and Wistaria fragrancedperfume, hand lotion and bath salts were sold 
at booths under the vine. Luncheons and teas 
were served, often with young Japanese womenwearing their kimonos. 

The hard work and money earned at the vineby the Woman’s Club paid off the mortgage oftheir first clubhouse. One year the Fire Dept.
parked 30,000 cars on the parking lot thatexisted in Floral Canyon. (This is now SierraMeadow Dr.). Easter sunrise services wereamong vine activities. People came from allover the world and extra street cars were added 
to handle the crowds. Among the famous wereFritz Kreisler, Janet Leigh, Mary Pickford, andNorman Rockwell. These two helped select thefestival’s Wistaria Queen. Packard Automobile 
Co. used the vine as a backdrop to advertise itsautomobile. 

On December 5, 1936, Carrie Ida Lawless 
purchases the vine property (Continued on B2)
from Mrs. Fennel, who was now a widow, for 
$17,000.00. December 5th was Mrs. Lawless’ 
birthday, and according to one account, shewas making a present to herself of the world’slargest bouquet. Also a widow, her husband 

William J (Bill) Lawless was mayor of SierraMadre during 1928-29. She, herself, was asuccessful businesswoman having foundedthe Weaver Jackson Beauty Co. in Los Angelesand was active in the community, serving aspresident of the Woman’s Club and the GardenClub. 

Mrs. Lawless spent a small fortune (around$100,000) enhancing the grounds of her newproperty and caring for the vine. When thefestivals were held they often lasted for theweeks the vine was in bloom, not just for one 
day. Mrs. Lawless, a patron of the arts, alsosponsored vine activities all year long. 

She hosted art exhibits, musicales, and poetryreadings. Nearby residents objected to the 

constant activity andtook their complaintsto the City Council.
Nothing was done asMrs. Lawless presentedthe argument that the 
vine existed before 
these neighbors 
purchased their 

In recognition for 
her contributions to 
the community, the 
Garden Club plantedanother Wistaria in 
the terraced garden onthe west side of what is 
today the Solt’s garden.
It blooms a bit later 
than the original vineand the plaque commemorating the occasion is 

When Mrs. Lawless died in 1942, she providedfor the vine by leaving a legacy to her nephewand heir, Bruce McGill, to continue care of 
the property with a committee headed by theGarden Club President. In 1944, the propertywas purchased by Richard and Marian Thayer.
Marian is the daughter of M. Penn Phillips,
a well-known developer of desert property.
In 1944 the vine was overgrown and in poorcondition. Richard Thayer planned to chop itup and get rid of it. A protest was raised and 
an association was formed to protect the vine, 
with money provided to pay property taxes andprovide year-round care for the vine. 

In 1961, after Richard Thayer died, the lot wassplit. Marian married builder Ronald Cookwho developed the west side of the propertywith homes and built the present Solt home forhe and Marian in1962. The upper home wassold to Joseph and Marie Feeney who raisedeight children there. In 1972, Ron and Mariansold the lower home to Bob and Nell Solt. In 
the late 1990s, Joe Feeney died and Maria soldthe property. It was purchased in 2003 by thepresent owners, Dan and Dana Dorrance. 

By the 1970’s Vine Festival activity had aboutended. It started up again in the late 70’s whensponsored for one day each year by the Chamberof Commerce. The Sierra Madre Beautification 
Committee was the yearly sponsor in the1980’s. Approximately 500-600 people attendedthe festival each year. In the spring of 1989,
Huell Howser came to film the vine for his 
program Videolog, which aired on KCET. Thenext year, approximately 6,000 people cameto view the vine. The festival organizers wereunprepared for such a turnout; lines stretchedfor two blocks. Howser returned in 1992 to film 
again for his California Gold program. Sierra 

Madre and the Chamber of Commerce quickly
organized and combined the annual Vine 

viewing with a downtown street fair. A shuttlebus is provided, and people procure tickets tosee the vine at a pre-scheduled time. 

The Guinness Book of World Records has 
named the Vine the World’s largest floweringplant. It is estimated that at the height of bloomit has 1.5 million blossoms with 40 blossoms 
per sq. ft., weighs 250 tons and has branchesthat extend 500 feet. Wistaria is a member of 
the pea family though its seeds resemble a flatbean. Seed pods burst open in the summer.
The plant is deciduous, losing its leaves inthe winter. Wistaria seeds were brought fromChina by Marco Polo in the 13th century. 

Today, the vine covers approximately one 
acre. Over the years, it has shown distress and 
seemed to be dying. Experts have been broughtin from Cal Tech, Occidental, and Cal PolyPomona. Correct pruning, treatments withhormones, and vitamin B have helped the vineto recover and to flourish. To help maintainthe Vine’s health, records of vine growth andcare are now kept on a computer log. The Vineseems to produce its greatest flowering after acold winter followed by a sudden hot spell. 

What is the correct spelling for wisteria—
wisteria or wistaria? In the Sunset Western 
Garden Book it is spelled wisteria. Sierra Madrehas always spelled it wistaria. According to L.

A. County Arboretum and Botanic Gardensenior biologist Jim Bauml and Librarian JoanDe Fato, the plant was named to honor CasparWistar (1761-1818), an American physicianand teacher, who taught at the University ofPennsylvania. Among his accomplishments,
he wrote the first text-book on anatomy. When 
the name of the genus Wisteria was put into thebooks, it was incorrectly spelled, says De Fato.
So, one could say that all along, Sierra Madrehas correctly spelled Wistaria! 

How will the Meadows project offset waterusage during a drought? 

By Robert Gjerde 

It doesn’t matter where you live in California, the ongoing drought is a concern everywhere. 
Sierra Madre has about 4400 residences so the 42 water-efficient homes in the Meadows project 
represents about 1% of the city’s total water usage. The proposal by the developer is that they 
will use what is called net-zero water usage by purchasing water in advance and storing it in the 
aquifer and/or through other water savings throughout the city.

 To accomplish this a fund will be created by the developer in the amount of $910,000 that is 
managed by the city council. The city has two options, the first is to purchase 950 acre feet of 
supplemental wa-ter at a cost of $380,000 and the remaining funds, $530,000, will be offered 
to area residents to remove water inefficient landscaping and replace it with drought toler-ant 

Even though water may be purchased in advance, the Meadow’s home-owners will pay for their 
water just like everyone else. The second option would be to use the funds to repair water leaks 
in the city’s existing public infrastructure, which currently loses around 10% of the city’s water. 
Repairing 10% of those leaks would make that lost water available for the Meadows without the 
city purchasing additional water. 

The city council can use any combination of these options to off-set the water usage, depending 
on how much supplemental water is available to be purchased and how many people chose to 

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In his March 19 letter to the Editor Ed Miller states that the proposed initiative does 
not take away the religious freedom of the Passionists. I disagree with him as discussed 
below, and I suggest that the incorrect statement is a diversion tactic designed 
to hide what the initiative really seeks to accomplish. The initiative seeks to go much 
farther than stopping the current proposal to build 42 low density homes. Instead, 
the initiative seeks to outlaw any institutional expansion of the property ever, and to 
restrict residential development to untenably large parcels, essentially rendering the 
Mater Dolorosa property incapable of development. This proposed initiative is currently 
being circulated for signatures to qualify for the November ballot. 

Contrary to the arguments of the initiative proponents, housing is 100% consistent 
with the city’s General Plan with 85% of the city zoned for low density residential 
housing. There are already many more than 42 homes built in the city at higher elevations 
than Mater Dolorosa farther into the foothills and canyons. 

For over 90 years the city recognized the owners’ right to build residential properties 
at Mater Dolorosa. Just six years ago the city, without notice to the owners, quietly 
dropped the right to develop residential housing on that particular property. In the 
view of the owners, much to their detriment, the hidden new restriction was arbitrary 
and capricious and not supported by the evidence and was an unlawful taking 
of property rights without due process. Our elected officials are in effect revisiting this 
issue in their review of the Meadows project. 

The initiative proponents claim the project greatly increases fire hazard. In contrast, 
the independent consultants who contributed to the Environmental Impact Report 
concluded that the 42 fire-hardened homes, fire protection systems and fire-resistant 
landscaping would substantially impede the spread of wind-driven wildfires, adding 
a layer of protection to surrounding areas. Correcting this type of misinformation is 
exactly why I joined my neighbors in forming Sierra Madre Neighbors for Fairness, 
a group committed to ensuring facts, reason, and good planning in our community. 

This initiative violates religious freedom. Under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized 
Persons Act overly restrictive downzoning of a religious institution is a 
violation of their First Amendment rights. 

The initiative does not try to hide the drafters’ disdain for the Planning Commissioners 
and the City Council Members who have spent many hours in review and discussion 
of the project to determine which course of action is fair to the stakeholders 
and best for the city and its residents. In Section 2 of the initiative, the drafters state: 
“Residents of Sierra Madre are no longer confident that enforcement of those policies 
and goals in our General Plan are a priority of our City Council, and believe that 
protection of sensitive, threatened and hazardous areas should be determined by the 
residents of the City, after a public debate and an election, and not by the individuals 
in City Hall.” Really? 

The drafters seek to circumvent the many hours of study and due diligence put in by 
our Planning Commissioners and duly elected City Council members. They want 
to create a highly restrictive zoning change which if enacted (and which survives 
expensive and risky 1st Amendment and land use litigation) would eviscerate the 
property rights of the owners of Mater Dolorosa. 

What if it were your property? 

John Doyle, Sierra Madre , Neighbors for Fairness 

Mountain Views News 80 W Sierra Madre Blvd. No. 327 Sierra Madre, Ca. 91024 Office: 626.355.2737 Fax: 626.609.3285 
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