“Aerodrome Replacing Country-House Garage,” Illustrated London News, Oct. 29, 1921, Courtesy of Mary Mallory
Unique thematic architectural homes stand out all around the Los Angeles area, like Yamashiro and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Barnsdall, Freeman, and Storer residences, just to name a few. Glendale possesses another exotic specimen, Leslie C. Brand’s mystical El Miradero, which is now known as the Brand Library. Built as the family residence in 1904, Brand deeded the estate to the city to become a park and library, a jewel in local area recreation spots.
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Born May 12, 1859, in Missouri, Leslie C. Brand exhibited strong interest in real estate and title processing as a teenager, working in a Recorder’s Office and selling real estate before emigrating to Los Angeles in December 1886. Brand established Los Angeles Abstract Co. in 1887 to issue real estate insurance and prove titles. In 1893, the company consolidated with Abstract and Title Co. to form Title Insurance and Trust Co., the behemoth of Los Angeles title companies for decades.
Brand invested his profits in real estate speculation around the Los Angeles Area, buying up chunks of land. By 1902, he purchased 1000 acres in northern Glendale and decided to make it his home. He partnered with railroad baron Henry Huntington to bring the Pacific Electric Co. to town, helped establish the Home Telephone Co. in the city, and formed three utilities that provided power and services to the San Fernando Valley. Brand would go on to found the First National Bank of Glendale in 1905 and the Glendale Country Club in 1907.
Tycoon Brand settled on a lovely piece of ground near the top of the Verdugo hills to build an estate, providing magnificent views of Glendale and the surrounding basin. The home was designed and constructed by Nathaniel Dryden, Brand’s brother-in-law, in a Saracen style reminiscent of an Eastern Indian pavilion which Brand saw at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. The house regally sat at the top of a hill at the end of a old country road, now known as Grandview Ave., dividing lands of David Burbank and Rafaela Verdugo. Brand christened his home El Miradero, which means “vantage point.” Glendale citizens called it “Brand’s Castle.”
Like something out of a “Thousand and One Nights,” El Miradero mesmerized attention with its curved arches, decorated towers, and elaborate decorative elements. The inside, furnished with Victorian style furniture and dark curtains, reflected more conservative middle American tastes.
The dramatic estate, located at 1601 W. Mountain St., spread majestically over the hillside and presided over Brand’s citrus orchards, and consisted of a pool, clubhouse, personal cemetery, and private reservoir, surrounded by an elegant white plaster fence and elaborate Middle Eastern gate. Just outside of the gate and south of Mountain, Brand built a private aerodrome and hangar with harmonious style to reflect the Middle Eastern look of his residence. Brand flew in and out of his property in his private plane, but also hosted fly-in parties as well, such as one in April 1921 that attracted silent film actresses Ruth Roland and Mary Miles Minter.
Because of its striking looks, the estate stood in for exotic locations in several Hollywood silent films, like Nell Shipman’s 1915 “Under the Crescent,” set in Egypt, 1919’s “The Man Beneath,” in which it plays Sessue Hayakawa’s Indian home, and Hayakawa’s 1920 film “An Arabian Knight,” where it appeared as an Egyptian estate. It also made an appearance as the home of Helen Holmes in the 1925 railroad film “Webs of Steel.”
In 1925, for $10, Brand deeded 488 acres of land surrounding the home to the city of Glendale for use as a public park. He willed the remaining acreage and home to the city with the codicil that his widow Mary Louise would live out her life in the home before aquistion by the city. The will stipulated “said City and its successors shall use said property exclusively as a public library and a public park and said property shall always be known as “Brand Library and Park.” Brand also required that the city should maintain it in a state comparable to the best parks in Southern California, with the city providing police, maintenance, and library staff.
Mrs. Brand died in a car crash in Arizona in May 1945, at which time distant relatives of Brand sued to get the estate back. The courts ruled in Glendale’s favor in October 1945.
The city opened the grounds as a park while they considered how to adapt the home into a library. They decided that because of its unique artistic design, the home should operate as an arts library. After rehabilitation and construction work, the city opened the Brand Library and Art Center in February 1956. In 1965, the city built a large addition to the structure as a separate building, allowing art shows, concerts, programs, lectures, and the like.
In 2008, Cecilia Rasmussen of the Los Angeles Times discovered that Brand had illegally married his mistress, Birdie Gordon, in Mexico and fathered two sons while still married to Mary Louise.
The Brand family cemetery still survives north of the house, with one monument in the shape of a pyramid. The reservoir above the house collects floodwaters and deposits after heavy rains. There are hiking trails around the home, with a couple leading to the top of the Verdugos. Currently the library is closed while undergoing renovations, and is expected to reopen early in 2014.