Throwback Thursday | First Resort Hotel in San Gabriel Valley

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1889)

The Royal Raymond

1886 to 1895 (consumed by fire on Easter Sunday)

Over 130 years ago Walter Raymond chose a hilltop in South Pasadena to build the first major resort hotel in San Gabriel Valley. The advantage of this location in the 1880s was its picturesque view of the San Gabriel Mountains (then called “Sierra Madre”) which appears unchanged today.

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PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1886)
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | “Lucky” Baldwin’s Invitation to Grand Dedication Ball (1886)

“The Royal Raymond” was an impressive sight upon completion in 1886. The stately Empire-style Victorian hotel was a massive wood structure with dozens of brick chimney stacks poking up like fingers through its distinctive mansard roof. The main building was two hundred and eighty-seven feet long, facing the south.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | View of South Pasadena – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1889)

Raymond’s Boston-based travel agency Raymond and Whitcomb referred to the surrounding area as a “paradise on Earth.”

When visitors first arrived at their winter destination here, they were not disappointed: the nearby village-like City of South Pasadena, local citrus groves, quaint farmhouses, and majestic mountains (a scenic backdrop to almost every view of the valley).

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | View from Main Tower guest room – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1892)
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Main Tower Floor Plan – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Main Tower room key (214) – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Third Story Floor Plan – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Second Story Floor Plan – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena

One Eastern newspaper described the Royal Raymond: “The sick and the well of all lands will gather in this hotel. Weary divines, flying for rest from Eastern pulpits, lawyers and judges, worn out in many halls of justice, orators, lecturers, poets, editors, men and women noted in the forum, on the platform, with the pen, soldiers who have won laurels with the sword, grave senators and wily politicians, all will pace the long halls of this palatial hotel, and gaze from its broad veranda on mountain, small town and the ten thousand bright orchard and vineyard-girt homes.”

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Grand Dining Hall – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1891)
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Dining Hall Silverware – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena

The “First Story” floor plan illustrates one of the most impressive features of the hotel. In 1887, the book “Marvels of Enterprise” describes the Royal Raymond veranda as follows: “A veranda, fifteen feet wide, extends around nearly the whole structure, affording a continuous promenade of a quarter mile.”

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Ground Level Floor Plan – The Royal Raymond, South Pasadena
PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | SouthPasadenan.com | Front view – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1892)
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Rose Parade Carriage – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1895)

The Raymond also became a popular destination for wealthy East Coast visitors wishing to escape the harsh winter. On most days, the weather was mild. The snowcapped mountains were a welcome reminder of the land they left behind buried in snow.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | Hotel guests – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1889)
PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | SouthPasadenan.com | View of San Gabriel Valley from the veranda – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1889)

Aging Civil War veterans visited the San Gabriel Valley in search of new opportunity. General William Tecumseh Sherman was a guest of the Royal Raymond and summed up his experience by saying: “It is the loveliest spot of earth I have ever visited.” General George Stoneman’s 400-acre estate “Los Robles” (The Oaks) bordered the hotel in present-day San Marino.

PHOTO: South Pasadena Public Library | SouthPasadenan.com | Lobby entrance – Royal Raymond, South Pasadena (1889)

Visitors with health problems came for a warmer and drier climate to aid their healing process and to fight off life-threatening disease. Some never returned home. They traveled cross-country over several days with a terminal condition for a more comfortable place to spend their remaining days on Earth. A place we call home today.


Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.