Sunday, January 8, 2012

Stephen Townsend -- 504 Cedar Ave., Long Beach

The Stephen Townsend (1848-1920) family first came to Southern California in 1876, consisting of wife Anna (1848-1930), two daughters Frances Maye (1872-1901) and Esther Belle (1875- ), and son Vinton Ray (1881-1929), who went by Ray. The family tried farming first (as indicated in the 1880 census), but Stephen Townsend had bigger ideas, and in 1886, as founder of the Pasadena Street Railroad (with 16 other investors), he had the first streetcar line built in Pasadena. By 1894 the line was suffering from declining revenues (due to "electric" competition), so he sold his share of the business, and relocated to Long Beach. In 1897 he began selling real estate in the small town after purchasing acreage at the east end of Anaheim Road.  How small was Long Beach? The 1900 census reported just 2,252 total residents for the city.

A Buffum's credit card from the 1980's
Besides various real estate development operations, Townsend founded the American National Bank of Long Beach.  This merged with the First National Bank of Long Beach in 1904, where he became vice president. He was probably working there when he was introduced that same year to a newcomer in town, Charles A. Buffum, who wanted to run a general store in Long Beach, as he'd done in Illinois. The store, named The Mercantile Company, started later that year with Charles Buffum as secretary and manager, and Stephen Townsend as vice president.

The store went on to become part of  Buffum's, a well-known Southern California chain of department stores that lasted 87 years. Of course as president of the Long Beach Board of Trustees (the previous title for mayors), Townsend no doubt met many people during his tenure from 1903-1905.

In 1905 he had a new, five bedroom house built on the corner of Cedar Avenue and West 5th Street. It was completed just in time so the Townsends could host a huge reception for their son Ray and his new bride Ada (Campbell). A look at the house around 1909:
Stephen Townsend Residence

Here's a similar image from a postcard of the period...
504 Cedar ca. 1909

Stephen remained very active in the community even after the grand reception.  In 1909 he was drafted to become president of the Iowa Society of Southern California. Part of his duties included that he then preside over the winter picnic and reunion on Feb. 23, 1909, held at "Agricultural Park" in Los Angeles. (We know it today as Exposition Park--back then there was no Coliseum, not even the Natural History Museum). A photo of the group's officers appeared in the next day's paper:
L to R: Stephen Townsend, pres; C.H. Parsons, secy; Charles G. Rogers, vice-pres; and F.H. Nichols, treasurer

So how many former Iowans showed up in 1909?  The L.A. Herald estimated 25,000, with each of the 99 counties of Iowa having a designated "reunion" site. Many reunions over heard a first line of "Howyadoin?" followed quickly by  "I'm glad I'm here and not in Iowa this time of year!"

Stephen Townsend 1910
Stephen and Anna remained in the house for their future years. Stephen passed away in 1920, a year after they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and Anna passed away in 1930, living to the ripe old age of 81. They were  buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

The house was sold and in 1932 it is owned by Mrs. Willametta Powers. By 1934 Helen Angier, a nurse, had moved into the house. By 1940 she offered furnished rooms.

The house today appears to be a rooming house. The exterior has been modified, with the 2nd floor railing above the bay window removed, the windows replaced, and stucco applied to replace the shingled upper floor. The river rock fireplace and trim appears to be intact.

504 Cedar Ave. as of April, 2016
(courtesy of the author)

 And a bit more to add regarding Stephen and Anna's son Vinton Ray...

As the house at 504 Cedar went up, so did another just two blocks south, with a "different" look. The house belonged to Jennie Reeve, another pioneer of Long Beach, who among other things was part of the Long Beach Library board. Here's an early image of her house:

302 Cedar Ave. (NE corner with 3rd St.)

(courtesy of The Greene & Greene Archives, University of Southern California
Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens)

V. Ray must have seen it many times when visiting his parents. In 1917 after Mrs. Reeve's death, V. Ray bought the house and moved it a few blocks away. By 1920 V. Ray and his wife had moved to Claremont to live in a house there that had been owned by Mrs. Reeve's daughter, Mary Darling. But V. Ray wanted to live in Long Beach, so he hired the architects who had designed the Long Beach house to provide alterations as necessary for its new home in a new subdivision in Long Beach. The architects, who had designed both houses, took the commission. The house still exists in Long Beach and has been recently restored. It is one of only two extant Greene & Greene houses in Long Beach. Sadly, V. Ray only got to live in the new house for two years, but his wife remained for at least another ten.

And today? The house appears below:

4260 Country Club Drive (courtesy of Wikipedia)

For more info:

Plans for V. Ray Townsend House--Long Beach 
Rare Long Beach Gem for Sale (2004): Greene & Greene


  1. I think my great uncle Bob Heebner lived in this house back in the 1970's; do you have any information on the owner's history of the house? Thank you!

  2. No, sorry my information only went through 1940. The Long Beach Library has street directories online through 1969 . A follow-up with the library may help you find what you are looking for.

  3. I am familiar with the home at 504 Cedar Ave. Although it's been slightly modified, it is still very nice with many of the original features in tack. I don't believe it's a rooming house anymore. It is now a duplex with entrances on Cedar Ave and the other on W. 5th St. Great article you wrote about this home!

  4. Jim, thanks for the kind words and the update. It's nice that some of these grand old houses are still here to provide shelter.

  5. I used to live there. It is divided into 4 apartments, 2 on the 2nd floor and 2 on the 1st floor. Each apartment has its own exterior entrance.

  6. I was wondering if there is any info with regards to Stephen working on getting some land for the YMCA in Long Beach in the Modjeska Canyon (Santiago Canyon) area in Orange County in 1910?

    1. I'm not aware of any. I would hunt for a (maybe) article in the Long Beach Press-Telegram around that time.


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