The Burdette House: Enduring Landmark of Cliffton-by-the-Sea

by Jason Marmor

(This article was originally published in the Winter 1991 Redondo Beach Historical Society Newsletter.  Eventide was the name given to the house by the original owners – Robert J. & Clara Burdette.)

Photo Courtesy of AES Redondo Beach

Photo Courtesy of AES Redondo Beach

The two story Craftsman house at 1600 S. Esplanade is one of the earliest and most interesting landmarks of the South Redondo Beach area. Built over seventy-five years ago as a summer cottage in the Cliffton – by-the-Sea subdivision, it still conveys the elegance of a bygone era.

In the Spring of 1909, Clara Baker Burdette, a wealthy socialite from Pasadena, and wife of minister Robert J. Burdette, selected the new Cliffton-by-the-Sea tract as the location for a seaside cottage. The tract had its beginning around 1906, when railroad magnate, Henry Huntington, acquired much of the land around the little resort town of Redondo Beach. In a short time, the sand dune-covered bluffs south of the town were transformed into residential real estate and marketed as high priced ocean-view lots. The dunes were leveled and streets laid out. Aligned with the shore was the broad “Esplanade”, behind which ran Catalina Avenue, and intersecting these main thoroughfares were nine perpendicular avenues, designated A through I. The lyrical name of the tract is a gem of real estate rhetoric, and probably referred to the bluff-top location. In 1911 the Pacific Electric interurban trolley line was extended down Catalina Avenue, terminating at a stop in Cliffton, and providing convenient transportation into Los Angeles and many communities scattered across the Los Angeles basin.

In his Cliffton venture, Huntington envisioned an exclusive colony for the well-to-do, and he set the example by having a Mediterranean – style seaside cottage of his own (designed by prominent Southern California architect, Myron Hunt) built at the comer of Avenue B and the Esplanade in 1906. However, as the decade was drawing to a close, very few lots in the tract had been sold. The serene oceanfront setting did attract the attention of a pair of wealthy Southern Californians who were in the market for a second home. Dr. Robert J. Burdette, a popular preacher, humorist, and author; and his rich heiress wife, Clara Baker Burdette, were prominent citizens of Pasadena where they occupied a luxurious estate known as “Sunnycrest”.

A Civil War veteran who arrived in Southern California in 1899, Dr. Burdette married Clara Baker Wheeler, a widow who had inherited a Pasadena mansion. In the same year,

Burdette was recruited to become the pastor of the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, despite the fact that he was as a Baptist. In 1906, upon his return from a trip to Europe, Reverend Burdette acceded to demands from many to head a new church, and Temple Baptist Church of Los Angeles was born. He held the post until 1909, when his health began to deteriorate, Even after his retirement from the pulpit, Burdette was called upon to repeatedly to speak and preach In 1910, he delivered the sermon for the martyred victims of the notorious explosion in the Los Angeles Times building on October 1, 1910. In November of the following year he performed the ceremonies for the dedication of a cemetery tablet to the victims.

Dr. Burdette was a man of small physical stature whose words and manner would indicate otherwise. He was a beloved personality in the local community and a friend to many, including Harris Newmark, author of the important chronicle – Sixty Years in Southern California. Mrs. Burdette was best known as a leading proponent in a number of women clubs activities benefitting social and philanthropic projects. Among her many accomplish-ments were lot, founding of the Women’s Civic League in Pasadena and the National Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was also deeply involved in the support of health care–for twenty-three years she served on the Board of Directors of the Pasadena Hospital, and in 1902, she provided funding for the completion of a new maternity wing. A front page article in the May 6, 1909, Redondo Reflex, announced the sale of three contiguous lots on the Esplanade in Cliffton to Mrs. Burdette. A home worth $10,000–quite a sum in those days–was planned to be built by contractor L.J. Norman. Not wasting time, the energetic Mrs. Burdette was busy in New York City purchasing hangings and furnishings for the house. The exact date of construction is not documented, however, it was completed an occupied by 1913. In keeping with tradition, the Burdette’s bestowed it with a name “Eventide.” The home was an architectural gem. It is a two-story Craftsman style house, embellished with shingle siding and flared chimneys. Its main roof is gracefully upswept at the gable ends, giving the house a subtle and dignified Oriental look. A small servants quarters, a bungalow of similar design, adjoins the main house. The entire structure occupies a corner lot (the southeast corner of Avenue H and Esplanade), and is surrounded by low iceplant groundcover. An extra wide set of concrete steps worthy of such a manor, ascends to the entrance on the house’s seaward side. As the “war to end all wars” was about to rage in Europe, the Burdettes enjoyed the tranquility of Redondo Beach. Unfortunately, Dr. Burdette was in failing health and he alternated stretches of convalescence with periods of writing at Eventide. Nearing his seventieth birthday, with his physical condition deteriorating steadily, the preacher found solace in the scene visible from the windows of his cottage. This entry, penned in July of 1913, reveals that in spite of the illness, his wit remained intact: “The gulls have been unusually numerous all day, and the fishing has been fine for men and birds. Little steam and gasoline launches and fleets of row boats have dotted the blue sea, and many have been the broken circles of water which drew the screaming birds by scores and attracted the boats as well. All this told of a general banquet for everybody save the guests of honor, for the big fish were feeding on the little fish below, driving them to the surface for the gulls, who passed what they could not catch back to the big fish, and the fishermen came with nets and lines that gathered everything but the gulls, so everybody was happy but the little fish, as usual”

Death came for Robert Burdette on November 9, 1914. Clara Burdette lived on into the 1920’s, however, she sold Eventide by 1921 and spent her last years in Pasadena.

In the meantime, around 1914, the Campbell-Bentley Company of Los Angeles stepped up its sales efforts as exclusive agents for Cliffton-By-The-Sea. A lavish sales brochure distributed by Campbell-Bentley portrayed the tract as the “Newport of the Pacific”, a reference to the exclusive seaside residential enclave on the eastern seaboard, Newport, Rhode Island. In an attempt to induce the elite to buy property in Cliffton, the brochure spotlighted such attractions as the Cliffton Country Club, the Sea Gull Inn (“Famous for its Salt-Air Cured Steaks!), and the stately home of Dr. and Mrs. Burdette.

Despite the efforts of real estate promoters, Cliffton-By-The-Sea failed, with few exceptions, to attract the rich and famous. However, the 1920’s witnessed a dramatic population influx into many areas of Southern California, and a proliferation of new housing tracts. It was during this decade of Post-World War I prosperity that houses began springing up in Cliffton. Contrary to the class of clientele sought by real estate salesmen of the previous decade and a half, the newcomers, were, by and large, middle class working folk. Almost all of the new construction was concentrated at the northern end of the tract, closer to the center of Redondo Beach, leaving the old Burdette house virtually alone at the opposite end.

In 1921 and 1922, the city directory’s entry for 1600 Esplanade was revealing to the socioeconomic changes occurring in the area. The house was then being occupied by William and Gladdie Stewart. The occupations of both Stewarts are listed as real estate agents, reflective of the boom in that industry during the 20’s. Third son, Dick, was a “picture actor”, a product of the Los Angeles area’s most glamorous new industry. The Burdette house remained a private residence throughout the decade of the 1920s. For a brief period, from 1925 to 1926, it had a neighbor–one block away that is –in the form of a Fig’n thistle Restaurant, located at the corner of Avenue I and esplanade (where Millie Riera’s Seafood Grotto now stands). In 1927, the Burdette house was occupied by Chester and Jane Scott. In 1928 a room was added on to the seaward façade of the house, its only exterior modification to date. The stuccoed second story addition include large windows that provided a splendid ocean view. The plain stucco wall treatment and single pane windows clearly distinguish the addition from the quaintness of the original structure. During the 1930s, as the Great Depression replaced the prosperity of the previous decade, the old Burdette house was put to innovative uses. By 1931 it housed the Miramar Military Academy which was presided over by Major Elmer V. Thompson with the assistance of Ruth E. Beckwith, office secretary. The roominess of the former mansion made it an ideal dormitory for the cadets, however it did lack a parade ground and other facilities. By 1936 the military academy was defunct and in its place was the Catholic Big Brothers Home, run by House Mother Barbara Kiechler and Resident Director, Robert A. Smith. Again, the voluminous size of the house proved to be well suited for communal enterprises.

There is a lack of information about the occupancy of the Burdette house in the closing years of the 1930s through World War II. However, the postwar period brought many changes to the South Bay, among which was an unprecedented housing boom; the explosive growth of the aerospace industry; and the demise of the Pacific Electric interurban railway system. With the passing of the “Big Red Cars” and the stops along its routes, the original name of the subdivision, Cliffton-by-the-Sea, slipped into obscurity. In 1947 the house was again serving as a private single- family dwelling, but by 1952 it was utilized as a five-unit apartment building. Its tenants included a teacher, a sales-woman, a stationary engineer (probably employed at the nearby Edison plant), a widow, and a sailor in the U.S. Navy.

Between World War II and the present, virtually every lot in the old Cliffton track was built upon. The Burdette house was surrounded and dwarfed by new construction, including a number of multi-story apartment buildings lining the Esplanade. Once again it serves as a private home. Today it survives, a relic of a simpler time and Redondo’s heyday as a seaside resort. It also remains the sole reminder of an early twentieth century real estate promotion which never materialized, an archetype for the “Newport of the Pacific” that never was.