Dancing on Top of the Volcano with Huell Howser

Now  I know this isn’t new news, but I just had to share the details of Volcano House, the simply AHMAAZING desert retreat of beloved local television personality Huell Howser that is currently on the market at the AHMAAZING price of $750,000 way out to the northeast of Newberry Springs, which is, as you might wonder, somewhere to the northeast of nowhere. Now, I freely admit that I will not be the first nor will I be the last person, no doubt, to compare this swinging sixties space age dome house to a set from a James Bond film,  but quite frankly it simply screams mad scientist or Dr. Evil-type lair, perfect for plotting world domination and launching ICBM missiles conveniently hidden inside the cinder cone beneath the house.

It's SUPER bein' a super villain!

Huell Howser, Volcano House’s current owner, has made quite a career for himself playing up the folksy, gee-wiz type of character that has been so much a part of public broadcasting over the last two decades. But as this house attests, Huell is a much more sophisticated fellow than his carefully cultivated public persona would otherwise indicate. A long time desert dweller, Huell has become as much a part of the high desert community of Twentynine Palms as he has become a fixture on PBS, serving as a sort of goodwill ambassador for the so-called “Poor Man’s Palm Springs.”

Huell’s love affair with the desert country north of Palm Springs began in the early 1990’s when he came up to Twentynine Palms to do a story on the relocation of the community’s old school house. “I fell in love with the desert,” he says, “and the straight-talking  people who live there.” In short order, Huell became one of those people, buying a 1953 mid-century modern ranchette, which he furnished and decorated with an eclectic mix of fifties-style furniture and unusual old machine parts, converted into home decor. “Raw industrial objects have an innate beauty for me,” he relates, “I sometimes wish they could talk.”” Among the many interesting pieces in Huell’s Twentynine Palms house are a set of 100-year-old grinding wheels, once used at the historic Gladding McBean tile and pottery works, that now serve as additional seating for large gatherings.

With his love of the high desert combined with unusual mid-century objects, it was quite natural that Huell would take notice when Volcano House came up for sale in 2003. “I make my living finding stories that others pass by,” Huell says. “But everyone and everything has a story to tell.” Clearly, there was a story indeed behind this fascinatingly bizarre property.

Its setting is simply spectacular. Dramatically perched atop the rugged black volcanic cider cone that gives it its name and surrounded by 60 extremely private acres of the Troy Lake Basin (the nearest neighbor is a mile away), Volcano House has the kind of breathtaking 360-degree views best described by Bob Hope in Bachelor in Paradise in 1961 when he declared “All you can see for miles and miles are miles and miles!”  (insert canned laughter here) Think what you will of it, but imagine the incredible panorama of sunrises, sunsets and magnificent summer storms that put on a regular show from every one of the sixteen floor-to-ceiling windows of Volcano House. And while the setting might first conjure visions of nefarious doings taking place under the dome, other ideas also come to mind, such as the ultimate party pad. As one local resident has attested, “You have not partied till you have partied here.”

While it was not actually built by a mad scientist, Volcano House was nonetheless the creation of a scientific genius, Vard Wallace. A successful engineer and inventor, Wallace, it is claimed, patented the very first “skateboard.” It was, however, drafting machines and airplane parts that made Wallace his fortune through Vard, Inc. during and after World War II and he had plenty of money to spend on new inventions, homes in Newport Beach and Hawaii and a private yacht. It was Wallace’s personal secretary, Mrs. Iwan who first brought Wallace out to the starkly beautiful desert country near Newberry Springs. On a weekend visit, Wallace became intrigued by the nearby 200-foot high cinder cone, imagining it as the setting for a space age vacation retreat. In short order, he became the owner of the cone and all of the property surrounding it.

To turn his fantasy into reality, Wallace engaged well-known Pasadena architect Harold J. Bissner, Jr. to create a round house similar in style to the innovative 1965 design for the Reception Center of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, which Wallace had admired on trips back and forth to San Diego.  The design turned out to be the easy part. Actual construction, which began in August 1968, was said to be nothing short of a nightmare, bedeviled by the remoteness of the location, the difficulty of hiring and keeping good workers and the worst winter rains in years. The contractor on the project, Jim Miles, who was brought in from Las Cruces, New Mexico, performed a heroic job, after other contractors refused the project or put in prohibitively costly estimates. Although there are no figures readily available, it was believed at the time of the home’s completion in fall 1969 that it was one of the most costly homes ever built in the high desert with estimates ranging from $200,000-$500,000 and in 1969 that was an expensive house.

It has its own lake!

In the end, however, it was considered worth all the trouble with Wallace, Bissner and Miles creating an instant desert landmark that turns out to be as beguiling as it is at first startling. Bissner’s unique design involved a sleek stucco dome that stretched over the home’s 2,500 square foot interior in such a way that it created an overhang to protect the interior from the merciless desert sun. To provide an additional cooling effect and help cement its destiny as a future home of a super villain, Bissner surrounded Volcano House with a five-foot wide and two-foot deep moat that Wallace intended to fill with water and plants, but which Ernst Stavro Blofeld or Dr. Evil could fill with piranha. Opening out onto the moat underneath the sheltering overhang are eighteen tempered sliding glass doors that provide not only great airflow but awesome views in every direction of the lunar landscape surrounding Volcano House.

Considering how eerie and intimidating it can be from a distance, the inside of Volcano House is surprisingly warm and  inviting. The focal point is an enormous central concrete cylinder, faced in cut stone from the nearby Calico Mountains with a V-shaped fireplace in its center. All the rooms of Volcano House surround this central core, which also shields two identical bathrooms, one for each bedroom, within its mass. Before it is a sunken conversation pit with built-in sofas and bookcases and curving along one side is a staircase that leads up to the observation deck on the very pinnacle of Volcano House’s dome. The open loft space of the interior adds to the home’s charms as well as the richness of the wooden circular ceiling, made up of ten linear miles of Douglas fir.

The exterior features a 600 sq. ft. terrace over the car port and down below is a four-acre lake with its own island and a jarringly unattractive guest/caretaker’s house, which once contained Wallace’s workshop, that is something only a bulldozer should love.

Originally, Wallace had even bigger plans for the property with the intention of adding 60 acres to the size of his lake and surrounding the base of the cone with an orchard, which was intended, not for commercial production, but “just to look at,” according to contractor Miles. The orchard, as charming as it may have seemed at first, might have been ultimately nixed because so much greenery might have detracted from the otherworldly moonscape surroundings that give Volcano House its weird appeal.

Wallace retained Volcano House for years before it was sold to British developer Richard Baily in 2000. Baily, however, found that he did not have the time to spend there and put the house on the market in 2003 with an asking price of $795,000.  Huell Howser was ultimately the buyer and he has maintained Volcano House, which is approximately equidistant to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as a retreat for the last seven years. As you might guess, because it is such a unique property its sat on the market for a while now, but there is bound to be someone out there eventually who wants a hideaway in the truest sense of the word, perhaps a desert-loving artist, actor, writer, megalomaniac arch super villain, international man (or woman) of mystery, or just someone who really needs to disappear for a while until the heat’s off. Julian Assange, have you considered Volcano House?

"C'mon in, y'all and I'll take that $750,000 now, thank ya!

Posted in Paradise Elsewhere, Paradise For Sale or Lease | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Rotogravure Sunday

During the 1920’s, Touring Topics published a special Rotogravure section that featured some remarkable photographs of Southern California and the West, taken by some remarkably talented photographers. These beautiful pictures captured a glimpse of California as it was during one of the most significant periods of its development. As I have recently acquired a large cache of these rotogravure sections I thought I’d share them as part of a regular Rotogravure Sunday. Enjoy!

Carmel Mission by Ernest M. Pratt

Castle Rock near Topanga by Loyd Cooper

Chatsworth Hills by Albert J. Koper

A Malibu Canyon by Elmer Fryer

Oasis of Mara. Twentynine Palms by Willard Wood

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Beautiful Magazine Art

The Architectural Record April 1930. Cover by Bernhard

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Then & Now – The John H. Blair and C.F. DeWitt Estates

The Blair (L) and DeWitt (R) Mansions (Photos via Listings)

Some of early Hollywood’s grandest homes were built not for movie stars, but real estate developers. These men were born showmen who often used their own homes to serve as advertisements for the tracts they were marketing. Two of Hollywood’s most successful developers of the 1920’s were John H. Blair and Charles F. “C.F.” DeWitt. Together they were responsible for subdividing numerous tracts throughout the region including the Wilshire Boulevard Heights Tract (1921) near Wilshire and La Brea; the Sunset Boulevard Terrace Tract (1922) @ Sunset and Micheltorena Streets in Silver Lake; Main-Moneta-Florence Avenue Square (1922); Goodyear Park (1922), the Longridge Country Club Tract and the Green Valley Lake Resort (1926) up in the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear.  One of their most interesting tracts was the Hollywood Manor (1923), located off Barham Boulevard on the hill behind Universal Studios. DeWitt & Blair were particularly proud of this tract and lent their names to two of the main streets running through the hilly district. Today DeWitt Drive and Blair Drive remain as something of a memorial to these two prominent developers.

Living Rooms of the Blair and DeWitt Mansions

Also remaining are the two enormous mansions they built near each other in Western Hollywood in the mid 1920’s. It is interesting to note that not only do both of these mansions still exist, they continue to retain many of their original elements including large chunks of the property they were once built on, a happy irony that the homes of these two prolific subdividers have not yet been subdivided themselves.  Both have come on the real estate market in the last year. Blair’s mansion, which was owned by television personality Leeza Gibbons,  sold in June for $4,795,000 while the DeWitt mansion is still available @ the somewhat heftier price of $7,995,000.

THE BLAIR MANSION

The John H. Blair mansion is located just off Hollywood Boulevard at 1760 Courtney Avenue. The house, which was completed in 1924, was built on a promontory against the hillside near the mouth of Nichols Canyon and cannot be seen from the road, but its impressive entry gates on Courtney offer a hint of what is above. George H. Fruehling, who designed the mansion in the form of a Mediterranean villa, was the in-house architect for DeWitt-Blair. Although his design is somewhat boxy, it is made much more interesting by the numerous terraces and balconies opening up off many of the home’s rooms. The entire ground floor was devoted to the “recreation” wing, which originally included a game room, gym and its own bowling alley. It still has a gym, but it looks the bowling alley is long gone. In more recent years, a separate guest quarters/office complex as well as a wrap-around pool was added to the estate.

Nellie Naysayer says “Fiddlesticks! What a load of hooey!”

Somehow, and who knows how these stories get started, but somehow it has gotten into the Hollywood legend mill that the Blair house was  once home to Joan Crawford. Why, Christina, why do these stories persist? A simple check of the facts will show that Joan’s residential whereabouts are easily traceable and from 1929 (the year the Blairs relocated to a new home at 3851 Avenida Del Sol in Coldwater Canyon) to 1955 Joan Crawford lived in one house and one house alone and that was her famous place at 426 North Bristol Circle in Brentwood Heights, a home which gained a new notoriety with Christina Crawford‘s book, Mommy Dearest.

THE DE WITT MANSION

The nearby mansion of Blair’s partner, C.F. DeWitt, at 8159 Hollywood Boulevard, was no less impressive. in fact, in some ways it was more impressive. It’s setting alone is quite spectacular, built against the edge of a three-acre hillside lot with sweeping, headlong views across the entire Los Angeles basin.  Like the Blair mansion, the DeWitt mansion was also done in the Italian style, but with a little more flair by Charles H. Kyson, an accomplished architect probably best known for the William C. Hay mansion in Los Feliz and the Tudoresque Administration complex at Forest Lawn.

One of the most impressive features of the DeWitt mansion is its dramatic oval entry hall sheathed from floor to ceiling in cut stone and featuring a marble floor imported from Florence, Italy. A sweeping staircase leads up to a musician’s balcony overlooking the enormous 45′ x 22′ living room. Anchoring the room is an elegant 19th Century fireplace, which once warmed an Italian castle and a beautiful fountain composed of mosaic tiles commissioned specifically for the house and handmade in Italy. The principal rooms included a formal dining room, breakfast room, den, music room and billiards room. Upstairs were four master bedrooms, each with their own tiled baths, three of which featured polished crystal “fixtures” and 14 carat gold-plated hardware.

The grounds of the DeWitt mansion are equally impressive, with two detached guest houses and an amazing grotto pool. When I first saw pictures of the pool, I assumed it was a more recent addition, but the grotto shows up, looking almost exactly the same as today, in photos dating to 1926.  The estate’s camellia garden is world-class and is a living legacy of a later owner, Ralph S. Peer, who was president of the American Camellia Society. In 1959, one of the world’s largest camellia bushes, an enormous 30-foot high specimen, was transplanted into the garden from its original site in Pico Rivera where it had been planted in 1887 by noted water expert, Webster Cate.

C.F. DeWitt owned the mansion until 1936 when he sold the home in the wake of his wife’s suicide the previous November. DeWitt remarried and lived to 76, dying in February of 1946. In recent years, his former home has been renamed Park Hill and, although there have been some inevitable changes in kitchen and bathrooms, the home remains remarkably as built.

OK, which one would you choose if you could? Blair House has been sold, but the DeWitt Mansion is still up for grabs. See the full listing here and a great slideshow of pictures here.

Posted in Nellie Naysayer, Paradise For Sale or Lease, Then & Now, West Hollywood | Tagged , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

The Morning Commute 1925

CAHUENGA PASS

Touring Topics November 1925 (Frederick Simpson)

The original caption of the photo stated that “The eternal congestion of traffic on Cahuenga Pass has driven many a motorist to the verge of madness, but soon such scenes will be a thing of the past for two new roads through this important defile are being constructed.” Yes, much better now. Thank you.
MULHOLLAND DRIVE
 

Touring Topics July 1925 (Ernest M. Pratt)

 

William Mulholland looks just like you think he would.

Taken shortly after its opening, the Mulholland Million Dollar Skyway, as it was originally called, was both an engineering and scenic masterpiece, which, according to its original caption “opens up an area hitherto inaccessable to the motorist.” Mulholland Drive was named after Los Angeles’ vaunted chief engineer William Mulholland, who was, within a few years, to be unjustifiably disgraced by the St. Francis Dam disaster.
The 1928 collapse of St. Francis Dam, which is considered the second deadliest disaster in California history, was particularly nerve-wracking for Hollywood residents as the beautiful Mulholland Dam up in Weid Canyon was considered the “sister” dam of the doomed St. Francis.

Beautiful Mulholland Dam and reservoir. Between each arch are large California Grizzly Bear heads.

Originally, Mulholland Drive went directly over the dam. After the collapse, the entire face of the dam was infilled with dirt and the reservoir’s water level reduced.  In spite of the precautions, it still collapsed in the movie Earthquake in 1974, remember? And remember that cinematic technical “marvel” Sensurround? It sure freaked me out as a little kid.
ON THE HIGHWAY BETWEEN BAKERSFIELD AND FREEMAN
 

Touring Topics January 1926 (Will Connell)

In 1925, modern motorists traveling the highway between Freeman and Bakersfield were no doubt creeped out by this unnerving sight,  a visual reminder of just how quickly times have changed. Along the road was this old horse and buggy, evidence of a tragedy of long ago, still startlingly visible after many years.
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The Hollywood That Never Was – Chateau Dijon

At the time of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 there were literally dozens of major projects in various stages of development throughout the Hollywood area that, had they been built would have had a dramatic and impressive effect on Hollywood’s skyline. One such project was the grand-scale Chateau Dijon Apartment-Hotel, which was slated for the corner of Sweetzer and Fountain Avenues in West Hollywood. Construction of the $520,000 project was announced in July of 1930, but before the project could formally get underway, it fell victim to the drastically changing economic times wrought by the Great Depression.

The height-limit (13 stories) Chateau Dijon was to contain 193 rooms divided into forty-four apartments, many of which would have featured stunning views of the mountains, the city and to the ocean beyond. Additionally, separate quarters for servants were to be included so that the well-to-do residents of the Chateau Dijon (and you would have had to have been very well-to-do to live there) could have their “live-in” staff without them actually having to live with them.

Guests and residents of the Chateau Dijon could also enjoy the Chateau’s elegant Supper Room, which could also be reserved by residents for their private use in the event they needed to do any large-scale entertaining without dirtying up the Aubusson carpets in their own enormous apartments. Aside from a handsomely appointed lobby there was also to be a large and sunny solarium opening out into the gardens where residents could lounge or entertain guests. The building’s design also included a separate parking structure adjacent that could accommodate forty cars.

The Chateau Dijon was designed by the firm of Hillier & Sheet who were responsible for a number of large apartment buildings and houses during the 1920’s. One of their best known buildings that did make it to completion was The Villa Rapallo @ 1201 North Crescent Heights Boulevard. Today known as Villa Italia, the $300,000 structure has been a West Hollywood landmark since its completion in 1931 and has been home to a number of famous people including silent screen legend Louise Brooks, Randolph Scott, Shelley Winters, and television’s loneliest Maytag Repairman, character actor Jesse White.

Hillier & Sheet's 1931 Villa Italia has been home to a number of famous people.

One can only imagine how many famous stars would have taken up residence at the Chateau Dijon.

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Update – No Cure for This! The Harris-Binford Affair

By popular demand (that is to say one person, which at this stage means half of my readers), I wanted to do a follow up to my very brief post last Sunday entitled “No Cure For This!,” which was really just an advertisement for one “Prof.” C.W. Harris, who came to Los Angeles in 1899 to relieve the needy of their ailments as well as their cash. Harris offered miraculous cures for all diseases without the nuisance and inconvenience of medicine or surgery. Quite a miracle indeed that a number of people apparently fell for this. But it was a young lady named Claire Binford who seems to have fallen the hardest, running off with him to Arizona and getting arrested for adultery (yes, you could get arrested for it in 1900).

Here then are a few more facts on this naughty little affair from over a century ago. It seems this C.W. Harris character was something straight out of a Victorian melodrama; a handsome, charming, all around scoundrel, rogue, rapscallion, cad, and ne’er do well, perfect to hiss at whenever he makes his entrance. As for his lady friend, Claire Binford, well, she seems like a real piece of work herself. Here’s the story as I found it. It’s a little long, but what’s here is pretty amusing. I will give it to you by date:

April 1,1899 – Eighteen year-old Claire McComas, daughter of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney “Judge” C.C. McComas, marries 25 year-old Charles M. Binford, a teller at the Los Angeles National Bank in a quiet ceremony held in the parsonage of the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. After a few months of marriage, young Binford accepts a new position, as book-keeper for the B-B Company Mercantile House in Prescott, Arizona. Although it’s a big advancement from bank teller, his pretty young bride does not want to follow her husband to the remote mining town and chooses to remain in Los Angeles at their home at 648 South Olive Street where her name pops up regularly in the “Society” columns attending functions thrown by her young friends. The fact that their wedding is solemnized on April Fool’s Day does not bode well for the marriage.

September-October 1899 – The Los Angeles papers begin carrying advertisements announcing the impending arrival of Prof. C.W. Harris to the city from San Diego where he has been “performing remarkable cures.” The cure, as Harris explained, “is accomplished by calling into activity the dormant power of the invalid through the force commonly referred to as vital magnetism.” As it turns out, “Prof.” Harris is really a former railroad dispatcher from Chicago who, bored with his job, heads west, first to Denver and then down to San Diego, hatching his phony “magnetic healer” scheme somewhere along the way.

October 1899 – Upon arrival, Harris, who is soon joined by his wife, takes up quarters in a suite of rooms at the Hollenbeck, which at the time was one of the city’s finest hotels. Apparently, the good folks of San Diego have been quite generous in their appreciation of his miraculous cures. He opens a “practice” @ 921 South Olive Street. Over the next few months, Harris goes to work, declaring in one of his regular ads that he “is now treating as many patients as possible for one person to see. He is curing them of disease in every form without the use of any medicine whatever. He does this by calling into activity the latent powers of the diseased body. He then directs the inborn powers of the patient so as to readjust the disease-racked body to harmonious motion.” A good many citizens fall for this ruse and he develops a steady stream of patients willing to fork over a good deal of money in exchange for his “miracle” cure, which is really nothing more than hypnotic suggestion.

December 11, 1899 – “Prof.” Harris is doing so well he begins offering a lecture course in order to share the priceless knowledge the twenty-seven year-old has acquired through “years of study and experiment.” Of course, there is a “nominal” charge for this series.

February 2, 1900 – Claire finally relents to her husband’s entreaties and leaves Los Angeles to join him in Prescott. Numerous going away parties are held in her honor. The Los Angeles Times notes that “Many regrets were expressed over her leaving Los Angeles, where she has lived since childhood.” The regrets, it would seem, were mostly Claire’s.

Although she does initially go to Prescott, Claire discovers she is bored senseless and wants nothing to do with the place (or apparently her husband either) and high-tails it back to Los Angeles by June. During that time she hooks up with Harris. It is not known how they meet, whether they had met before she left for Prescott or upon her return, but meet up they do and an intense romantic affair ensues. It is later revealed that Claire has had a history of throwing herself into impassioned romances usually ending in suicide attempts from the time she was 13. Claire also reveals she was well aware of Harris’ marital status at the time they embarked on their fateful affair, “but I loved him and he had such influence over me…”

October 27, 1900 – The Harris-Binford affair burns so white-hot they can’t control themselves any longer and, practically on fire,  they skip town, leaving behind Harris’ unsuspecting wife. Ironically, they head to Arizona, settling in Phoenix less than 100 miles from Claire’s husband up in Prescott. It turns out to be a fatal mistake. The couple check into Phoenix’s finest hotel of the day, the Hotel Adams, registering as “Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Long” (!). For the next week they rarely leave their suite and continually express their “marital” love for each other in ways apparently quite noticeable to both other guests and members of the hotel staff.

While this is going on in Phoenix, a frantic search is underway in Los Angeles for the missing pair. When you are the daughter of the Deputy District Attorney you can believe he has the connections to find you, yet it is actually the cuckolded husband who sniffs the pair out in Phoenix and alerts the authorities.

November 3, 1900 – C.W. Harris and Claire Binford are arrested at the Hotel Adams and charged with adultery, a Federal offense in this situation because the pair did their dirty deed across interstate lines into the Arizona Territory thus violating the Edmunds Act. Harris is thrown into the County Jail, but the police aren’t sure what to do with a “lady” and she is sequestered in the Sheriff’s Office. It hits the L.A. papers the next morning, moderately scandalizing the town where Claire was part of “society.”

At first it’s all love and gallantry mixed with a little defiance as Harris declares to the press (he talked to the press a lot) that he cared not a whit over what was to become of him, but he hopes the girl will not be punished. For her part, Claire, also freely chatting with reporters, stated “I expect my friends at home will be shocked, but I think more of him than I do of them. I am sorry on my family’s account, but I couldn’t help it. I loved him so.”

November 4, 1900 – Stunningly, both cheated upon spouses are anxious to forgive. Mrs. Harris wires her husband, “I am heartbroken, but will bring money and try to help you.” As for Claire, the moment her husband enters the jail she throws herself into his arms and begs for mercy and aid, while at the same time throwing Harris under the bus, telling her husband how she had been “hypnotized” by Harris into having the affair. “He had such influence over me that when he asked me to come here with him I could not bring myself to resist.”  Either blinded by love or just plain dimwitted, Binford buys what his wife is selling, telling waiting reporters, “My wife erred, but I don’t think she was responsible and no jury would convict her.” He was even so gallant to state that after the trial, if she so wished, he would grant her a divorce. As for Harris, Binford declared, “I will make the strongest kind of effort to get him into the penitentiary.”

November 5, 1900 – Seeing that there is no honor among thieves after Claire’s public turnabout, Harris turns also. “I may go to the penitentiary,” he declares in his best cavalier fashion, “but I can console myself by thinking I’ve had a good time, and that Claire will go also,” adding, “It’s all poppycock about me hypnotizing her. She is as much to blame for this trouble as I am.” He later admits he has no actual healing powers and that the whole thing is just “an advertising dodge.” While Claire is out on bail, Harris remains in County Jail where he has, according to the press, a grand time, “reading love stories, smoking and joking with officers and visitors.”

November 8, 1900 – Mrs. Harris wires the bail money and springs her husband from his prison hellhole. He sees no irony in returning to the Hotel Adams, the scene of his recent infidelity. That same day, the papers report that all is forgiven between Binford and Claire “and it is likely no proceedings for divorce will be brought.” The newly-reconciled Binfords steer clear of the Hotel Adams, checking in instead at the Hotel Commercial, which claims to be Phoenix’s leading “family” hotel.

November 9, 1900 – It’s high theater at the preliminary hearing in High Commissioner Crenshaw’s court where both are bound over to the grand jury. Harris is reported as affecting a “cynical smile” and laughing throughout the proceedings in between casually reading a newspaper, while across the room his estranged partner in crime plays the pity card and plays it for all it’s worth. The press, of course, love every bit of it: “Her pretty head bowed down in shame, her eyes swollen and red from days of tearful pentinence and her handsome, petite form shaken by sobs.” At either side are her “broken-hearted” parents while her hapless husband tries to comfort all three. Binford tells the press his wife was completely hypnotised by Harris and that in her sleep she has recounted the events of the affair “showing beyond doubt, she was under some powerful influence, controlled by him.” Someone was hypnotized, that’s for sure.

As he stands up to leave the proceeding, Harris sneers disdainfully in Claire’s direction and announces, “I don’t see why I thought I ever loved that girl. Look at her cry; that’s a good game, and she thinks she can play herself out of trouble that way, but she can’t do it. I’ll get out of my difficulty all right, but I’ll fix her. I know alot of things about her I’ll tell when the time comes. She was only 19 years old, but she was smooth enough for twice that age.” Harris finishes this, no doubt, with a twirl of his mustache, and adds that the whole affair did him good, “because it showed me what the true love of my wife is really worth.”

November 10, 1900 – Showing that justice moves with lightning swiftness in Territorial Arizona, the grand jury meets and decides there is enough evidence to bound Claire over for trial on the charge of adultery. The decision on Harris is to be made the next day. It will be the same. Upon hearing the news, Claire faints into a chair, while a defiant Harris, from his suite at the Hotel Adams, declares he will base his defense on two points: one being that no intimate relations occurred on the trip because Claire was ill the whole time and, secondly, Claire is a liar and that he will bring in witnesses from both Los Angeles and Prescott to show her true character and disprove her claims that he hypnotized her into adultery.

November 11, 1900 – Harris’ threat to expose Claire’s “true” character seems to have a dramatic effect and the Times reports on the “unique turn” the case has quickly taken where the pair, after “berating each other” in both court and in the press over the last days, suddenly find themselves in perfect harmony in an effort to avoid the penitentiary. Claire withdraws her claims of seduction by hypnosis and begins parroting Harris’ statements that, yes, she was ill the whole time and no hanky panky occurred. That the “miracle healer” couldn’t heal Claire of her illness on the trip is an irony not lost on the press and the public who find it all very amusing.

November 15, 1900 – Both plead “not guilty” at their short arraignment and are free until the trial date of December 17. A packed courtroom of the “morbidly curious” are disappointed that no scenes are affected by the leading players and that no salacious details are revealed. Harris heads back to Los Angeles to be with his wife and try to resurrect his business. Considering he has already publicly declared himself to be a sham it seems incredible anyone would still fall for his healing powers, but, as the Times reports, “He has been doing a few healing stunts while here, appearing to find patients readily.”

As for Claire, although the Binfords have affected a “complete reconciliation,” she ominously refuses to return with him to Prescott, entraining back to Los Angeles with her parents until the trial.

December 12, 1900 – Five days before the trial, the whole case is suddenly settled with both Harris and Claire agreeing to plead guilty to the lesser charge of “Fornication” rather than Adultery. The Federal crime of Fornication in the Arizona Territory carries a punishment of $100.00, which both parties quickly pay. Obviously, in spite of all the bravado, the pair know they are caught dead to rights and had better make a deal. As the District Attorney in the case states, a trial would have brought out details that “were perhaps best never have been told in court.” Judge Street, presiding, agrees and states that it was a crime “the less said of the better for the community.” However, before agreeing to the reduced sentence, the Judge wants to make sure there is no chance of these two getting together again. Attorneys with both sides declare emphatically the pair are completely separated and that there “could be no possibility of a recurrence of the offense” as both have affected total reconciliations with their spouses.

February 11, 1901

Come to think of it, they deserved one another.

Posted in Interesting People | 4 Comments