215 Orange Grove Avenue

Home History 

The Porter House was originally the home of a pioneer Pasadena/South Pasadena family and has, through the years, been owned by citizens who have made an impact on the community. As the current owner says, “It speaks to the legacy of South Pasadena.”

Former Address: 1299 South Orange Grove Avenue (until about 1910) Style: Victorian (Queen Anne)

Year of Completion: 1875 (according to the Los Angeles County Assessor and historian Jane Apostol)

Original Building Permit: There is no original building permit on file for this property. The house was built years before the City of South Pasadena incorporated in 1888. Before that time, the community was under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County. The County did not begin issuing permits for its unincorporated areas until 1927.

Cost to Build: $3,000—a large sum for a farmhouse at that time

First Owner:  Andrew O. Porter, one of the founders of Pasadena, who shared the house with his wife Anna G. Porter, their two children, and a live-in Chinese-born servant.

Andrew Oliphant Porter was born on July 17, 1819 in Lawrenceburg, Indiana to Thomas Porter, a captain in the U.S. Army, and Mercy (Tousley) Porter. Andrew, only a year old when his mother died, was educated in local schools. He was first employed as a farmer and then in the shipping business.  Attracted by the gold rush, he moved to California in 1852, settling along the American River. Having evidently not “struck it rich,” in 1857 he returned home to Indiana.  In Shelbyville, he became the local agent for the Indianapolis, Cincinnati  & Louisville Railroad. He was also involved in the grain business as manager of the Shelby Mills, making a name for himself as a skilled businessman. Mr. Porter bought and sold real estate as well.

Mr, Porter was married twice. His first marriage in 1847 to Miss Nancy T. McCoy of Lawrenceburg (1826-1851) produced a son Omer Tousley Porter (1847-1902) and a daughter Anna (1850-1851).  In 1865, fourteen years after Nancy’s death, Mr. Porter married Miss Anna Green of Rush County, Indiana (born December 6, 1839).  They would have three children: Myra (1866-1867); William (“Willie”) C. (1868-1876); and Donald (Don) Carlos (1870-1959), the only child to live to adulthood.

In 1873, Mr. Porter returned to California with his family and occupied a house at the corner of 4th and Spring Streets in Los Angeles. The following year, he and his brother-in-law Perry M. Green were two of the 28 pioneers who purchased 4,000 acres of the Rancho San Pasqual along the banks of the Arroyo Seco and established a co-operative known as the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association. It laid out 84 lots in what was called the Indiana Colony, the birthplace of Pasadena. Orange Grove Avenue soon became the heart of the settlement. Mr. Porter was chairman of the committee of apportionment which divided up the parcels among the colonists by lottery. Foreseeing that smaller shareholders might get stuck with less-desirable acreage, the committee decided to let them draw first before the larger shareholders. Nevertheless, with their real estate acumen, Mr. Porter and Mr. Green were able to amass for themselves 180 acres at the far south end of the Colony. (The Green family would build their home just to the north of the Porters.) The Porter and Green lands were prepared for the planting of hay and barley, and 300 young orange trees were set out.

The Porter family built their residence in 1875 on an elevated parcel facing directly north with a view up Orange Grove Avenue. It afforded a “magnificent view of the city below, the valley and mountains.” The Porters’ large tract of land was soon subdivided, leaving them with three acres surrounding their home which were “cultivated and improved with all the trees, shrubbery and flowers native to the state.”

Mr. Porter was vitally interested in the development of his new community. He served as President of the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association from 1875 to 1877 and was one of the first school district trustees. He was a founder of the Methodist Episcopal Church and an organizer of the First National Bank of Pasadena along with Perry Green. Mr. Porter was also remembered as an important figure in the establishment of a permanent water supply for the Indiana Colony. In planting grape cuttings and orange-tree seedlings on their home-sites, Porter and Green decided to use pipe rather than the more common ditch irrigation system. Pipe proved to be much more reliable and also saved water. This constant water flow, supplied from springs and mountain streams, proved to be an important factor in Pasadena’s early development.

Andrew Porter became known as the “peacemaker” and was often called upon to settle disputes. “He was public-spirited, kind and generous to a fault and unostentatious in his gifts.” He and Perry Green were praised for the last-minute arrangements they made to welcome President Rutherford B. Hayes on a surprise visit to Pasadena in 1880. Mrs. Porter, a homemaker, was one of the organizers of the first church in the city, the First Methodist Society, in 1875.

Andrew Porter died on January 17, 1888 at the age of 68. In that year, the City of South Pasadena declared its independence. Two years before his death, in 1886, the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association he helped found had become the City of Pasadena, a name decided upon a few years earlier.

Around 1893, Orange Grove Avenue was realigned and extended south to join what was then Sylvan Avenue in South Pasadena. As a result, the Porter family home was moved about 140 yards northwest to another lot the family owned just south of Columbia Street, its front façade now facing east. It is said the structure was enlarged and “modernized” in the process.

Mrs. Porter resided in the family home for another forty years. By the 1920s, her son Don, his wife Louisa, and a granddaughter Lulu were living with her, as well as two boarders. Anna Porter was the last living charter member of Pasadena’s First Methodist Church when she died on March 10, 1928 at the age of 88. She and her husband are both interred at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena.

During the 1930s, the Porter house appears to have been rented out. Among the tenants was Ada Mae Brooks, a well-known figure in early childhood education. She founded the Broadoaks Kindergarten Training School and was president of the California Kindergarten Teachers’ Association.

The Porter family continued to impact the South Pasadena community after Andrew Porter’s death. Don Carlos Porter served as the City’s first Treasurer and as City Attorney from 1895 to 1901. He was involved in obtaining water rights for Pasadena and South Pasadena as a director of the Pasadena Land & Water Company. He was also active in the development of real estate, oil wells, and mines. His son, Andrew O. Porter (1907-1963), served as a Mayor of South Pasadena beginning in 1940. Biographical articles on the Porter family are attached on

pages 7 through 12.

Architect and Builder: The architect and builder of the Porter House are unidentified. There would have been few trained designers in the Pasadena area in 1875. It is likely that a local builder (perhaps Mr. Porter himself) used a pattern-book or other commercially available plans as inspiration for the design of his home.

Other Building Permits: The oldest building permit for this property still on file with the City of South Pasadena is dated in August 1948. It called for $600 in alterations and repairs to an existing dwelling. Day labor, probably under the supervision of the owner, was to accomplish the work. A copy of this permit is attached on page 17.

A lot split was permitted in July 1961.

In April 1963, the house, with the exception of the north side, was to be re-roofed with composition shingles.

The house was re-roofed again between September 1999 and June 2000 with Class A fiberglass shingles. The total cost was estimated at $6,825.

(Note: Permits for very minor alterations, such as water heater replacement, are not included. Also not included are permits missing from the file or whose microfilmed or digital copies are indecipherable and not otherwise recorded or described in Assessor’s records.)

Assessor’s Records: Los Angeles County Assessor’s building records could not be consulted at the time this report was being written. The Assessor currently estimates the square footage of the house at 2,867 with four bedrooms and three bathrooms.

Other Owners and Residents: It appears the Porter House has had only four owners over its 145-year history. Following the Porter family, the names discussed below have been associated with the property:

Ernest K. and Neva S. Allen were recorded as trustee owners in 1946. Mr. and Mrs. Allen apparently never moved into the house, but held a trust deed issued by Don Porter. The Allen family continued to live in Linda Vista. Mrs. Allen was an early preservationist, having been active in the restoration of Olvera Street.

Samuel and Ruth H. Rees purchased the property in 1948. Mr. Rees was from a pioneer Los Angeles family. He and his wife made extensive improvements to the Porter House, such as modernizing the kitchen, adding cabinetry, improving the infrastructure, and building a porch on the west side.

Irving C. Rector, an architect, and his wife Shelby Dietrich Rector, a physician, became the owners in 1978. Mr. Rector (1923-2002) was named South Pasadena Citizen of the Year in 1991. Among his accomplishments: active participation in the creation of the South Pasadena Comprehensive Plan, leadership of South Pasadena Beautiful, promotion of improvements to Orange Grove Avenue near his home (including a landscaped island and enhanced street lighting), and staunch opposition to the extension of the 710 Freeway.

Mrs. Rector (1924-2019), a graduate of the University of Michigan, was a world-renowned leader in the search for a cure for AIDS and was remembered for her work with underserved children.

Mr. and Mrs. Rector, who had lived in South Pasadena since 1951, moved directly across the street from the Rees family in the late 1950s. In 1960, as the Rectors were expanding their family, Mr. Rees sold them the southerly part of his property so they could build a new family home at 301 Orange Grove. Upon the death of Mr. and Mrs. Rees, their children approached Mr. Rector to see if he wanted to buy the Porter House, because “he had been such a steward of South Pasadena." He said yes. Mr. Rector’s mother lived in the house from 1979 to 1985. Between 1986 and 2003 it was rented out, and from 2003 to 2019 it was lived in by Ann Rector, the Rectors’ youngest daughter. In 1991, Mr. and Mrs. Rector built 217 Orange Grove as their retirement home.

 

Lucinda (Lucy) R. Filppu, another daughter of Irving and Shelby Rector, has been the owner of the Porter House since 2019.

Significance: The City of South Pasadena has determined that the Porter House (a “Queen Anne Cottage”) is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite additions and alterations made over the years, the City named the Porter House Historical Cultural Landmark #15 in 1972. It is the oldest surviving home of the original Indiana Colony. Attached on pages 18 and 19 are the City’s record and a photograph showing the dedication of the historical plaque.

Notes: A page from the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps of 1910 shows the footprint of the Porter house and its various outbuildings. A copy of the page is attached on page 13.

Copies of historic photographs of the Porter house from the collection of the South Pasadena Public Library are attached on pages 14 and 16.

Physical Description: Exterior: The front façade of the Porter House has retained several architectural features that are consistent with the style of a subdued Queen Anne Victorian cottage, or farmhouse. Among these are a high-pitched gabled roof; clapboard wall siding; a (formerly) full-width front porch, its roof supported by wooden posts topped by decorative, jig- sawn brackets; an open porch railing made up of evenly spaced horizontal beams with unevenly spaced vertical connectors; long narrow double-hung windows, some with multiple panes in the upper sash; a diamond-paned window near the front door; a front door surmounted by a pediment with carved corbels; and a raised foundation requiring a wooden staircase of six steps to reach the porch.

Interior: Original features of the interior include high ceilings; wood floors; paneled doors (many with porcelain knobs and decorative hinges); molded door and window frames, baseboards, and picture-rails; built-in window seats; fireplaces with metal or stone surrounds, side pilasters, and mantel-pieces supported by carved corbels; and wall sconces (probably not original).

Sources:

Los Angeles County Assessor
Los Angeles Public Library
City of Pasadena, Planning and Development Department (Design & Historic

Preservation Section) Pasadena Public Library

Pasadena Museum of History (Research Library and Archives) City of South Pasadena, Building Department

Apostol, Jane. South Pasadena: A Centennial History: 1888-1988. 2nd edition. South Pasadena Public Library 2008.

Borgerding, Mary. Andrew and Anna Porter. Pasadena Historical Society, n.d. Gebhard, David and Robert Winter. An Architectural Guidebook to Los Angeles, 6th ed.

Santa Monica, Angel City Press, 2018.
Giddings, Jennie Hollingsworth. I Can Remember Early Pasadena.

Los Angeles, Morrison, 1949.
McAlester, Virginia Savage. A Field Guide to American Houses. 2nd ed.

New York, Knopf, 2013.
Page, Henry Markham. Pasadena: Its Early Years. Los Angeles, Morrison, 1964. Scheid, Ann. Pasadena: Crown of the Valley. Northridge, Windsor Publications, 1986.

Los Angeles Times: March 11, 1928; August 23 and 25, 1948 Pasadena Star-News: August 22, 1948; March 6, 1979
South Pasadena Review: September 30, 1948

Phone conversation with owner Lucy Filppu on April 4, 2020.

Internet Resources, including California Index, California Death Index,
Gale Biography Master Index, Ancestry.com, and Historic Los Angeles Times Database.

 

 

Tim Gregory
The Building Biographer
400 East California Blvd., #3 Pasadena, CA 91106-3763 626-792-7465 (office) 626-241-4471 (cell) timgregory@sbcglobal.net

www.buildingbiographer.com

Copyright April 2020 by Tim Gregory