History of Monrovia, General Pile and Idlewild

The City of Monrovia was founded on May 17th, 1886 by William Newton Monroe and four partners. The land was purchased from E. J. Baldwin, the owner of Santa Anita Rancho.

General W.A. Pile moved to Monrovia in 1886, joining William N. Monroe as a real estate partner. As early as November 1886, the Planet reported that some people had purchased property on Myrtle Avenue through the real estate office of Monroe & Pile. Monroe & Pile made the following offer to prospective buyers. "Any person who, after this date, shall build a residence to cost not less than $1,000 in a territory adjacent to the San Gabriel Valley Transit, will be given a years pass over the road. (Signed) W.N. Monroe, General Manager."

In the late 1880s travelers to San Bernardino or Los Angeles had two routes: one, through the central valley, and the other through Monroe’s place, more or less along Foothill Blvd. (then White Oak). This route became known as going "via Monroe’s." It was suggested that the via be tucked on the end of Monroe to form the name of the new town.

The City of Monrovia was incorporated on December 8, 1887 and General William A. Pile was elected one of the five men to the City of Trustees (now called City council). E. W. Little, Pile’s son-in-law was elected City Attorney. E. W. Little was also appointed Superintendent of Schools before the official school district was formed in July 1888.

Four of the five founders of Monrovia were railroad men and they built a special railroad from Monrovia to Los Angeles. It was called the San Gabriel Valley Rapid Transit Railroad. It opened the year after the town was incorporated. On the day of the grand opening, the mayor of Los Angeles and other city officials rode the train to Monrovia. William Monroe and his friends took them on a tour of the new town. First they went t a reception in William Monroe’s home "The Oaks", then to General Pile’s home, "Idlewild," for another party. All the guests rode in carriages to the top of Gold Hill. There they saw a beautiful view of Monrovia. The railroad was not a success. Eventually it was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad.

W.A. Pile served as Mayor in 1888. He served for one year.

General Pile served in the Union Army during the Civil War and earned the rank of General. He served in the House of Representatives, was the governor of New Mexico Territory and Minister to Venezuela.

General Pile's Victorian mansion, "Idlewild", was built in 1887. He spent $12,000 to build the 2-story house. (Idlewild was the most expensive home built in Monrovia in 1887 according to the Monrovia Planet December 31, 1887 edition.) Mrs. Pile planted a beautiful garden of rare flowers and shrubs around the house. General Pile died after living in his elegant home for only two years.

The architects of the home were Samuel and Joseph Cather Newsom who also built the Carson House in Eureka. The home was not contracted, but was constructed under the direct supervision of General Pile and his wife. Idlewild is one of four structures that the Newsomes designed in Monrovia at the same time. Idlewild is now one of the few remaining Newsom works in Southern California.

The elaborate ornamentation includes a sunburst motif, fish scale shingles on the upper level, and the word "Idlewild" carved on the central gable.

The original colors were described as chocolate brown on the first story, trimmed with dark color of the same. The upper story is a cream trimmings, yellowish brown, lined with English vermilion red.

The house is elevated on a 4 foot, cut granite, coarse ashler foundation. The gannet pieces are 18 inches thick. The double entry doors have etched glass and, on the south side, columns of stacking rings support the veranda.

The original house had 5 verandahs. 2 remain today and will be restored by the current owners. The third was enclosed about 1910 and is used as a TV room today it is off the dining room. The current owners will add a verandah off the back and north side of the house at the same time that they install the garden.

The reception room is 13 x 20 feet. It is wainscoted four feet high with curly redwood. The original wall covering in this room was plain tint of gray ingrain, Velour velvet frieze, with iridescent stilling and Velour border. The current owners have restored all the wood in the reception room, which took about 4 months. They hired a craftsman that restores antique furniture at museums. They will continue with the project until all the wood in the house is restored.

The owners restored the front door wood.

The stained glass over the front door was selected by General Pile and manufactured by Rafael & Slessinger, of Los Angeles. The figures are geometric and the whole window contains over 1000 pieces of glass. It also contains 50 cut jewels. The General began a hobby in gemology after visiting England and admired the cathedrals and other buildings. In a Feb. 1888 article in the Monrovian Planet, the author said " It should produce a magnificent effect at night, when the gas is lighted".

The first floor is 12 feet 6 inches high and the second is 11 feet high.

A spindle work arch divides the front and back parlors. The windows in each parlor are octagon shaped and originally had heavy French plate glass. Each parlor is 25 x 35. There is a button to push for the maid in the front parlor.

The front parlor originally had a fireplace made of California onyx and made in San Francisco. It had at least 12 different shades of color in the mantle with a center bronze piece statue of Giotto. It was sold off at some point and is believed to be in a home in South Pasadena today. The owners of Idlewild would like to locate the mantle with the hopes of returning it to its original place at Idlewild. (If you know about this or where it is, please contact us.)

The back parlor has a 7-foot verandah, which originally overlooked the orange orchard and commanded a good view of the valley.

The original walls in the parlors were light buff ingrain paper, with picture molding and a deep frieze, ceiling stiles, boarder and corner pieces, gilt and iridescent frescoed centerpieces.

The back parlor mantle is of solid mahogany with French plate glass mirror.

The dining room is 15 x 25 feet, wainscoted five feet with very choice curly redwood. The walls were originally plain tint ingrain paper; deep frieze, with extentionstile and border on ceiling, and frescoed centerpieces. The mantle is of curly redwood, made in San Francisco and by happy coincidence matches the wainscoting perfectly. The tiles of the mantle are Minton, made at Stoke-on-Trent, England. Originally there was a door to a pantry right next to the door to the kitchen. This was closed up when the kitchen was remodeled and left with a pseudo cabinet covering it, which was built by a movie studio. The current owners’ mom, Eva Ruth Long Rayburn installed the shelving that you see today. She crafted the shelves after the wood work in the mantle.

The Los Angeles Planing Mill Co made the newel post.

Where the downstairs bathroom is today, was a cross hall leading to the north verandah containing clothes presses and a marble wash basin.

The kitchen is 12 x 14 feet and was originally furnished in 1887 with a modern range and every convenience. A pantry was attached. This new kitchen was remodeled by the previous owners in 1992. The stained glass windows that light the kitchen today came from the Rose Bowl Swap Meet and nicely took the space of the fireplace flu when it was removed. The kitchen was designed around the Hoosier cabinet that the previous owners purchased in Wisconsin.

The upper hall is 12 X 24 feet.

Each room as a transom window above the door.

The second story balcony facing east, with a cutaway arch, has been enclosed. It is called a "Juliet balcony". It has a sliding door to separate the upper hall and a second sliding door separates the balcony from the front bedroom (front chamber). Teddy Roosevelt is reported to have spoken from the balcony when he was a Vice Presidential candidate.

The front chamber was Mrs. Pile’s room and it measures 15 x 20 feet. It has curly redwood mantle with Minton tiles.

The next room  was W. A. Pile’s chamber and was called the "Blue" room. It is 12x 18 feet in size. There are 2 balconies that originally had sliding plate glass windows. The mantle is Mexican Primavera wood, the tiling of which was made at Cleveland, Ohio.

The next room (now the master bedroom) was the guest chamber. It is 15 x 20 feet. The mantle is redwood, however only the lower portion is original. The upper portion of the fireplace was found by the current owners in an antique store in Arizona. They were told that it came out of a bordello in Jerome, AZ. The owners are collecting old wedding pictures and marriage certificates to decorate this room.

The last room  was the spare chamber. In a year or so, this room will be re-decorated in distressed red, white and blue with a presidential theme. This room belongs to a little boy.

The bathroom originally contained a large 6-foot French bathtub. When the current owners purchased the house the bathroom was decorated in a 1950s style. The new owners remodeled the bathroom in 1999 to be more in character with the home. At some point they will reinstall a claw foot bathtub.

The walk-in closet was a linen closet originally.

The tower (copula) was reconstructed in the early 1990’s. Plans were drawn to replicate the old copula, which is believed to have burned in an electrical fire in 1969.

Idlewild was named after the residence of N.P. Willis on the Hudson River. N. P. Willis was a friend of General W.A. Pile.

The house originally encompassed 10 acres of land, most of it covered with orange trees.

Under the house is a cellar 16 x 23 feet. The new owners remodeled it into a wine cellar and tasting room in 1999.

The new owners successfully got the home registered as a Historical Landmark in 1998. It is #16 in Monrovia to be named.

The new owners designed, cut, built and installed the fence surrounding the property.

10 sixty foot Palm Trees line the U shaped driveway at the front of the property.

The Northwest corner of the property facing Hillcrest showcases a metal gate designed by D. Lester Williams. The arch depicts the sunburst "Idlewild" like on the front of the home and the gate depicts the home itself. (The gate is scheduled to be installed in April 2000.)

The picture hanging above the stairs seen from the upstairs is a 1910 Italian painting on French canvas. The previous owners discovered it when they were reroofing the house. The painting was found rolled up and stuck in the rafters. It was taken to the Huntington Library to be restored and framed. The new owners purchased the painting when they bought the house.

Much of the furniture in the home is family heirlooms and were trucked here from Wisconsin when they bought the house. (Thank you Suzanne!)

The large roll top desk was built especially for this house and was commissioned by the current owners. It was built by a man in Madison, Wisconsin and delivered in 1997. He signed the piece " This desk has been hand crafted especially  in 1997 for the home Idlewild.

The fireplaces were shallow, as they were for burning coal not wood.

The windows leading up the stairway are made by a process only done in Italy. Unfortunately one of the original windowpanes was sold 3 owners ago to someone who once lived in the house and wanted a momento. (If you know anything about this window, please contact us, as we would love to get the window back in Idlewild.) A movie company made a cheap replica for the purposes of filming and it has since faded.

The pictures hanging as you ascend the stairs are family pictures of the current owners and pictures of General Pile and Monrovia.

The drawing of Idlewild at the end of the reception room was done by Lynn VanDam a well known artist in Monrovia. This was commissioned by the parents of the current owners as a Christmas present in 1998.

In 1980, the inside of the house Idlewild was used by a television production company for the filming of the TV movie, "East of Eden", a novel by John Steinbeck. It stared Jane Seymour. Other productions that filmed here include:

Picket Fences
Freddy’s Dead
Gangster Chronicles
Highway to Heaven
Unsolved Mysteries (On TV 1998)
Song of the Lark (Master Piece Theater Due out Jan or Feb. 2000)
Party of Five (On 2 shows in Nov. 1999)
The Big Head

General House Information

"Victorian " means any style prominent during the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837-1901. There are several more specific sub styles within the Victorian section. Popular color schemes on these early homes include deep golds, maroons, greens and tans.

"Queen Anne" style is what Idlewild is know as. Queen Annes are built between 1880s and 1890s. Queen Annes are usually asymmetrically shaped with gabled wings and turrets, and wrap around porches. Intricate and elaborate decoration are prevalent in the fretwork, shingles and balustrades.

Other interesting things:

In 1895, the first Library of Monrovia was in a room in the Granite Bank Building. The library was organized by the women of the Saturday Afternoon Club. Mrs. Little, daughter of General William A. Pile, started the first collection of books for the city library. She entertained the women of the community at her Saturday afternoon tea in her home. Each guest was asked to bring a book. In 1907, with funds from the Carnegie Foundation, a new library building was built on Myrtle Avenue, between Lime and Palm Avenues.

Monrovia’s first motion picture company started in the fall of 1915. It was called the Monrovia Feature Film Company. The company made two pictures: "The Argonauts of ‘49" and "The Daughters of the Don". The company did not do well and everyone who invested lost their money. Fifteen years later, Studio Santa Fe began producing movies in Monrovia. But again, the company was not successful. In the 1980's’, Monrovia again became a favorite place to make films as well as commercials.

Most streets in Monrovia were named after trees and flowers. Hillcrest Blvd. used to be called Banana Avenue. Colorado was Orange Avenue. Foothill Blvd. used to Be White Oak Avenue. Myrtle Avenue was named after Monroe’s eldest daughter. Mayflower has always been Mayflower Avenue.

1886 is the year the Statue of Liberty was being erected on Ellis Island.

The Santa Fe Railroad reached Los Angeles in 1886.

In 1887 Monrovia had 164 residences with a population of nearly 2000.

1889 outbreak of war with Spain.

In 1890 the City of Monrovia held a horse race on the "common" (near Colorado Blvd.) Between Myrtle and Mayflower.

When the City of Monrovia celebrated the 1 year anniversary of the city in 1887 at a Town Hall gathering W.A. Pile was the speaker of the evening and commented "That the founding of a new community in a hitherto unsettled and unoccupied section of the country was an event worthy of being celebrated at every recurring anniversary."

House to house mail delivery began in Monrovia in 1911.