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The story behind Glassell Park: The strange, fascinating lives of the Glassell family, Los Angeles pioneers

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp®

Developer Andrew Glassell (right) with his brother, William T. Glassell. William was a soldier in the confederate army and Great Uncle to George S. Patton, the famous US Army General. City of Orange

There's L.A.'s Glassell Park, near Mount Washington; there's Glassell Street, in Orange. So, who or what was Glassell? 

You can find the answer at West Adams' Angelus Rosedale Cemetery. Among the buried Civil War veterans, movie producers and even the occasional pyramid, there's a giant obelisk bearing the Glassell name. 

One of the first Glassells buried at Angelus Rosedale cemetery is Andrew Glassell — a lawyer and land developer, and one of the many tycoons who made Los Angeles the metropolis it is today. He was born on a plantation in 1827 to a large, wealthy family. His place of birth was Orange County… Virginia.

Glassell studied law at the University of Alabama before he joined the federal government as a U.S. attorney. Then, the Civil War happened. The government asked lawyers to sign an oath pledging loyalty to the Union. For the child of plantation owners, things got complicated. 

"There was a lot of Southern sentiment in California," said Phil Brigandi, an Orange County historian who's studied the Glassell family. "Being in San Francisco, if he had decided to sign the loyalty oath, he probably could have retained a lot of his practice. If he'd been down south in Los Angeles by then, where there was a much stronger Southern sentiment, it would have been pretty rough for him personally and professionally — much less what the family would think about it."

Andrew Glassell rejected the oath and lost his law license. He went into business, eventually ending up on the small roster of wealthy American settlers who bought up land, sold it and whose names are scattered across maps of California and L.A. He lived in what's now Northeast L.A. — the "Glassell Park" neighborhood sits on what used to be his sprawling farm. 

Glassell's biggest undertaking was about 30 miles south, though. He and a colleague named Alfred Chapman founded the town of Orange, California — Glassell Street near Orange's downtown is named for him.

"It's interesting, this whole notion of not just subdividing and selling land, but founding a town," said Brigandi. "And you get very different approaches to it: you have Chapman and the Glassell brothers founding Orange, right nearby at about the same time you get William Spurgeon founding Santa Ana, and Columbus Tustin founding Tustin. And where Spurgeon and Tustin were very much hands on, living in the towns, right in the middle of this — Chapman and Glassell are essentially absentee landlords. They don't live down here. They don't have have their own businesses here."

Brigandi said that had a huge impact on the way these early cities developed.

"Orange, Santa Ana and Tustin all start at about the same time with about the same assets in terms of location, climate, soil, water —all those things," he said. "Within a very short number of years, Santa Ana has really taken off as the boss town of the area."  

Another Glassell buried at Rosedale is Andrew's brother, William T. Glassell. William helped lay out plots and sell real estate in Orange — but before that, he fought for the Confederate Army, as a crewmember in a primitive 19th century submarine.

Coincidentally, William's and Andrew's sister Susan is the grandmother of a more famous military figure: George S. Patton.

Stories of tycoons like William and Andrew Glassell help give us context to where street, city and neighborhood names come from, but they also unearth morbid and fascinating tales. Buried alongside William and Andrew in the Glassell plot is Philip Glassell, Andrew's son. 

Philip was born in 1867 and didn't appear to have his father's ambition for fame and fortune — his name didn't really appear in the papers until 1901, just six months after his father died. I met Don Lynch, a member of the West Adams Heritage Association, at the grave of Philip. Lynch found Philip's story in an archived edition of the Los Angeles Herald.

"Philip started living with a young lady around 1900; her name was Rhoda Eddo and she was the daughter of a local artist," said Lynch. "She was described as somewhat lame and that she needed a crutch to walk with. And when she was about 19 they moved in together and pretty much lived as husband and wife in various boarding houses and renting homes."

Things went south not long after Andrew Glassell's death. Philip's drinking got worse, and despite his promise to marry, Philip disappeared — hiding in his uncle's house near MacArthur Park. 

After searching for days, Eddo drove her buggy to the house Philip was staying at. The Herald provided a grim description of what happened next. 

"Suddenly, Miss Eddo drew from the folds of her dress a long, block black pistol, and, pointing the barrel to her head, fired a bullet Into her right temple. She fell to the ground, dead. "

Eddo was just 19 when she died. Her tombstone, if she ever had one, has long since vanished. Her suicide note, however, made the paper:

Dear Sweetheart Philip: I will do as you have heard. You asked me to pray for you, that you would come back that night, and this is the way you came back. Well, dear, I hope we will meet at home or hell — which It is I don't know, but it sure cannot be worse, dear. I love you, and I cannot live without you. Please see that my body gets into the ground. 

As ever, your wife, as you must always call me. 

Mrs. P. H. Glassell

Rhoda W. Eddo 

Clear across Angelus Rosedale cemetery — maybe a couple hundred feet from her lover's body — you'll find the unmarked grave of Rhoda Eddo. The characters in the Glassell drama are long since dead, but at Angelus Rosedale, their story lives on. 

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