Note: This is an encore post from 2006.
Perhaps John Bryson’s early life was something out of Horatio Alger, but the death of the Los Angeles developer and self-made millionaire could have easily been taken from the pages of Charles Dickens.
Born in Lancaster, Pa., in 1819 and one of 13 children, Bryson served an apprenticeship as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. Lured by the opportunities of the West, Bryson and his wife, Emeline, moved to Ohio in 1845. From there, the couple moved to Muscatine, Iowa, and then to Los Angeles.
Arriving about 1879, Bryson used his knowledge of construction and the lumber industry to begin as a developer. One of his main projects was the Bryson Block on the northwest corner of Spring and 2nd Streets, a site now occupied by the Los Angeles Times. Active in local affairs, he was elected mayor in 1888 and served one term.
But by 1907, his life had unraveled. Aged and ill, he had separated from his wife and was almost constantly in the company of his longtime nurse, Gladys Lamberton. At odds with his family, Bryson fought constant legal battles with his wife and children, who were seeking to declare him mentally incompetent and under Lamberton’s control so they could obtain control of his vast financial holdings.
Granting an interview to reporters from his bed at the Hotel Alexandria, Bryson answered when asked about Lamberton’s purported influence over him:
“Why, what on earth do you think I am?” Then, bending forward and shaking a bony finger at the reporter, he said: “I paid her for what work she did and for things she purchased for me and not one cent more. To tell the truth, I lived cheaper with her than I did before I left my wife. It used to cost me at the least estimate $1,000 ($20,523.57 USD 2005) a month to run the house before my separation from my wife, and afterward less than $400 a month covered my expenses.
“Hell, man, this thing makes me mad. Here I have lived in this city for over 25 years and have been spoken of as having the usual amount of common sense. The people of Los Angeles elected me mayor. I have amassed a comfortable competence in this city and then someone says that a woman makes me follow her about like a dog and that I take orders from her, and, in short, that I am crazy and a fool. Well they will find out that I am not. I made my money and I am going to keep it to the end.”
I don’t claim to be intimately familiar with Alger’s works, but I doubt his heroes talk this way.
Sadly, the fighting between the nurse and the family continued after Bryson’s death. He was hurriedly buried in a secret ceremony at Rosedale Cemetery.