Throwback Thursday | South Pasadena: Building the ‘Royal Raymond’ Resort Hotel

A look into the enormous task of completing the legendary hotel

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Artist rendering – Royal Raymond resort hotel (1885)

Completion of the first major resort hotel in San Gabriel Valley was far from certain when Walter Raymond’s father (Emmons Raymond) visited the construction site during a rainstorm in the winter of 1885. While grading the hilltop, the work crew discovered granite requiring costly blasting operations. With over 200 workers sitting idle, the fate of the project was in question.

At sunrise the next morning the rain had stopped. Emmons was greeted by breathtaking views of the mountains and the surrounding grassy hillsides, young orchards and poppy fields. Emmons gave his son the money he needed to complete the hotel.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Grading camp on Raymond Hill, South Pasadena (1885)

 The spillover work crew hastily set up camp on this grassy field at the base of Raymond Hill. With Emmons Raymond giving his son’s hotel project the green light, there was much work to be done. The hill had to be reduced to a level wide enough for the construction of a major resort hotel – the largest ever built in San Gabriel Valley.

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PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Leveled hilltop at the construction site (1885)

Raymond Hill was now a “flat top” and ready for the foundation work to begin. Notice the nursery operation of trees and shrubs planted in the foreground next to the workshops.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Making bricks on Raymond Hill, South Pasadena (1885)

Over one million bricks were manufactured on site for the hotel’s foundation and two dozen chimneys.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Workers and their temporary housing on Raymond Hill, South Pasadena (1885)

The Royal Raymond project required several skilled work teams. The labor force varied for each phase of construction; swelling up to 250 workers during the leveling of the hill and hotel building.

The resort hotel project required massive amounts of lumber. Fortunately, this natural resource was plentiful. The mill operations of the Great Northwest supplied a constant flow of lumber to the California port cities: San Francisco, San Pedro (Los Angeles), and San Diego.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Royal Raymond under construction, South Pasadena (1886)
PHOTO: South Pasadena Public Library | | Royal Raymond during the second season, South Pasadena (1888)

Shortly after grading and construction of the Royal Raymond were complete, a rainstorm hit the area creating muddy roads and the swollen Arroyo Seco impassable. Notice the deep cut erosion visible in the photo below.

PHOTO: Rick Thomas Collection | | Royal Raymond shortly after construction (1886)

Note: next week’s Throwback Thursday will tell the story of the Royal Raymond’s Grand Dedication Ball held on November 17, 1886, and the hotel’s first Thanksgiving the following week.

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas

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.