Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Eugene E. Hewlett--1450 Hillcrest Ave., Pasadena

Frederick and Cleora Hewlett were listed as farmers in Petaluma in the 1880 federal census, but they must have been more successful than most. They were able to live in San Francisco, as well as retire after that in the Napa valley. Of their five children born, tragically only two would get past childhood--but they were both strong achievers. Eugene Elbert (1878-1946) was the younger brother of Albion Walter (1875-1925). Father Frederick moved to San Francisco when the boys were young, and they grew up going to San Francisco public schools.

Walter headed off to UC Berkeley for college, earning a B.S. degree in 1895, before advancing to Johns Hopkins University to become a doctor. With his MD degree in hand in 1900, he came back to San Francisco to teach at Cooper Medical College (today part of Stanford). In 1908 he took a position in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he joined the faculty at the University, and met his future wife Louise.

Meanwhile younger brother Eugene followed in Walter's footsteps at Berkeley earning his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1900, then headed off to Harvard for his LLB degree. It was there he became friends with Howard E. Huntington, only son of Henry E. Huntington, the latter of  Huntington Library fame. After graduation in 1903, Eugene returned to San Francisco to pick up the same law degree at Hastings, which would allow him to practice law in California, which is what he did shortly after being admitted to the bar, again in 1903. He set up practice with two other Harvard graduates, calling themselves Hewlett, Bancroft & Ballantine, with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. 

On October 20, 1904 the Society news in Oakland was
Oakland Tribune 22 Oct 1904
(courtesy of
abuzz with the marriage of Eugene to Ione Fore. The description of the event (along with photos of the bride and maid of honor) took eight column inches in the paper. Ione was described...
"The bride was simply beautiful. Miss Ione Fore has always been beautiful, at all times, and she was a royally beautiful bride. The gown was of white satin, the heavy effect relieved with the overdress of fluffy tulle, and over that was the filmiest of Bruges lace."
The article went on to list Eugene's best man--brother Walter, who assisted in the event along with ushers Allen Chickering, Thomas Bishop, and Howard Huntington.

The next August Howard had found his bride-to-be and the wedding with Leslie was a society event of the season. The stag dinner for Howard was held two days prior at the San Francisco Palace, and hosted by--Eugene Hewlett. No doubt Howard's money set a high bar for keeping up, but Eugene appeared to be staying in step.

The next year was a tough one for San Francisco, with the earthquake and subsequent fire eliminating large portions of the central city. Included among the victims was Mrs. Simeon Wenban, who'd lost her Van Ness Avenue mansion in the fire--as widow of Simeon, a very successful miner in Colorado, she was indeed wealthy, but had no ready access to cash. She needed assistance in getting the insurance to pay for her house, and her daughter Eva Shaw recommended her friend Eugene, which established the beginning of a long-term relationship.

By 1907 Eugene and Ione moved to Los Angeles, taking up residence in the stylish West Adams district on west 28th Ave. It was simple to do as the law offices just added a new office in Los Angeles. It was located in the Pacific Electric Building, 3rd floor, in downtown L.A. (which was owned by Howard's father...). Howard had moved from San Francisco where he had been working at the Southern Pacific Railway, to Los Angeles where he ran the Los Angeles Railway out of the same Pacific Electric Building. Howard and Leslie had located in his father's new Oak Knoll subdivision in Pasadena, which was about a mile from Henry Huntington's new palatial home in today's San Marino, and adjacent to the new Huntington Hotel.

Eugene and Ione quickly purchased a new lot in Oak Knoll, building their new home on a 10+ acres with expansive views of the San Gabriel valley, and moved in by 1909. Now the Hewletts were just up the hill from the Huntingtons.

1450 Hillcrest Ave. in 1909

The 1910 census described inhabitants as Mr. and Mrs. Hewlett, along with two servants, and two "hired men". Interestingly Mrs. Hewlett attended a family reunion in San Francisco two weeks prior, and ended up with the distinction of being listed twice in the census. And that same year Henry Huntington divorced his long time wife Mary, Howard's mother. The world was later to find out that Eugene took on the role of managing some of her money, too.

The Hewletts were a strong part of Pasadena's society.  One article in the Pasadena Star-News described Mrs. Hewlett thus:
"...Mrs. Hewlett stopped at Hotel Huntington last year and her costumes were the admiration and wonder of Pasadena's wealthy and the millionaires who came from the east. At the tango dinners where famous professional dancers performed, she was always the most brilliant in the throng and her appearance invariably excited admiring comments. Slightly built, with perfect features and dark hair, she was always gowned in the most dazzling creations and at the charity ball, where women brought their costumes direct from Paris for the brilliant event, Mrs. Hewlett in her attire always managed to outshine the others."
Eugene in 1910
As Mrs. Hewlett delighted society, Eugene immersed himself in his passion for race cars. No doubt convincing Howard to join him, they were partners in the Pacific Coast Motor Car Co., which gained dealer rights for Fiat on the west coast, including Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  An office was opened in San Francisco. Eugene bought a Fiat racer in late 1910, and hired a driver, David Bruce-Brown. The Fiat had just come off some successful races, and it was expected to do well in future showings. With its 175 horsepower engine, it could sustain speeds of 75 mph, so with great anticipation Eugene entered the car and driver in the FIRST Indianapolis 500, held May 30, 1911. Lo and behold the Fiat finished third, entitling owner Eugene to winnings of $3,250.

Next year 1912 was even more successful.  Eugene, with a new
The 1912 Fiat Recently
driver "Terrible" Teddy Tetzlaff, placed the Fiat second at the Indianapolis 500, with an average speed of over 76 MPH, earning $10,000 for the finish. They were one of only ten cars to complete the full 500 miles.

The successes continued throughout the year, with a win in Tacoma at the Montamarathon--and a trophy to prove it.  This was followed by a win in Phoenix with Teddy again at the wheel. A great racing season for the team.

In 1913 racing continued with Frank Verbeck as the new driver. As a former chauffeur for Hewlett, he raced under the Pacific Coast Motor Car Co. banner. He won more than one race in which he beat the famous Barney Oldfield, including the 1913 Panama-Pacific Road Race, to the point that Oldfield purchased the Fiat for his own after the 1914 season.

But not all was wine and roses. It was reported that the house at 1450 Hillcrest was sold in 1913, and rumors abounded about an impending split between the Hewletts, which was denied by Ione. Then in September, 1914 the headlines hit newspapers from Pasadena to El Paso.

Pasadena Star-News 9-11-14
(courtesy Pasadena Library)

It seems that a retired Englishman, a Reginald Gernon, had earlier contracted with Eugene to provide an annuity of $3,000 per year in exchange for $30,000 cash and some properties, totaling $34,000. Soon after Hewlett is alleged to have defaulted on the annuity, which caused Gernon to file the embezzlement suit. Hewlett was out of town the day the suit was filed--he returned quickly to California and was soon out on bail. But in Oakland the story added a new twist.  It mentioned that Hewlett had been sued "two months ago, by Howard Huntington, son of Millionaire Henry E. Huntington, for the recovery of $100,000 alleged to have been obtained fraudulently by Hewlett."

October was more bad news as the new headline read "Attorney Accused of $576,000 Fraud". Eugene was accused of fraudulently converting to his own uses client securities aggregating $576,000. The suit this time was by the Wenban estate, incorporated. The complaint stated that "Hewlett as confidential agent of Mary E. Huntington mismanaged her property, aggregating $500,000, and that when she threatened criminal prosecution, restitution was made with the estate's bonds." The complaint by the Wenban estate was tortuously slow in being resolved, eventually reaching the California Supreme Court in 1924 (Wenban v. Hewlett 193 Cal. 675). It appeared that Eugene was attempting to separate Hewlett the man from Hewlett the company, and selling the story that the bonds were taken by the company, not the man. The ruling came back that "..It is not necessary that the plaintiff prove actual fraud.  It is enough if the recognition of the two entities as separate would result in an injustice."

By this time not only had Howard's mother Mary E. Huntington died, so had the primary Wenban plaintiff, Caroline Wenban, as well as Howard Huntington himself. His obituary in 1922 read his health had declined due to an ulcer of the stomach.  In today's parlance, we would say he died of stomach cancer.

Eugene knew the writing was on the wall back in 1915, so he and Ione headed for the east coast, where he ended up in New York in 1918. By 1930 they had moved on to Chicago, where he and Ione were renting at the Briar Apartments for $100/month.  His profession was listed as "coal organizer". In 1938 the Hewletts came back to town, living in L.A. on Rampart Blvd., before moving back to Pasadena, where they could be found in 1942 at 1390 N. Arroyo Blvd.  Four years later, Eugene died on August 3rd--Ione then moved back to the bay area (probably with family), where she passed away in Alameda County on March 3rd, 1965. The Hewletts are buried in Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Colma.

And what of 1450 Hillcrest? In 1920 no one is found to be living in the house. Howard & Leslie Huntington are still living in their home down the hill at 1079 Old Mill Road. But as noted above, Howard died in 1922, leaving widow Leslie with their four children. By 1924 she becomes engaged to James Brehm, a wealthy real estate investor, and a widower with children. And their new house for the combined families? Yes--1450 Hillcrest, where Leslie and James remain until their passings, two months apart, in 1962. After their deaths, the house was demolished, the property subdivided, and today there are three houses on the site, one of the addresses is today's 1446 Hillcrest Ave. Coincidentally, one of Henry Huntington's most profitable lines on the Pacific Electric Railway (called the Oak Knoll line) ran just south of the Hillcrest Ave. property (more detail in map below).

P.E. Railway on the private right-of-way below the Hillcrest House
(date unknown) (courtesy of

And lastly--Eugene and Ione had no known children, but Eugene's brother A. Walter did.  While Walter was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he and Louise became parents to William Redington Hewlett (1913-2001), Redington being a family name on his mother's side. And what became of William (Bill) Hewlett?  With father Walter's death early on in 1925, son Bill committed he would attend Stanford and while there in the 1930's, he hit it off with another student whose name you already know, David Packard. They went on to found their scientific instrument company, Hewlett-Packard.

Uncle Eugene and Aunt Ione--who knew?

Additional Information:
1930 Sanborn Map of the area
An interesting aerial of the Baroness Zimmerman house next door
El Paso article on Hewlett Case 1914

(Author's note: this is my favorite post in the blog)

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