Thursday, January 17, 2008
Abbey San Encino
1915 – Clyde Browne
6211 Arroyo Glen, Garvanza – map
Okay. For starters. Abbey San Encino is A) not an abbey, and B) not in San Encino.
Printer/typographer Clyde Browne was born in Old Hickory, Ohio, in the summer of 1872. By the time he was twelve years old, his family had moved eight times, leapfrogging back and forth between Ohio, California, Missouri, and Kansas. It was in San Francisco when Clyde was about fifteen that he got a job on the Petaluma Imprint.
After serving as a cabin boy and apprentice sailor, Browne jumped ship in 1893 and headed back to Northern California where he worked for a series of newspapers around San Francisco. He also made a living for a while as a piano player in the Barbary Coast area.
Browne and his wife moved to Los Angeles around 1902/1903. In 1904, he went to work at the Los Angeles Examiner. He quit the paper four years later and, with Grace Wassum, his new wife (his first died in 1904), left his home around Fifth and Hill downtown, moving into a frame building on Figueroa (then named Pasadena Avenue). He quickly began renovating the house along with setting up a print shop, nicknamed “The Studio”, with Grace serving as a typesetter. It was Browne’s dream to form a sort of artists’ collective in what was already an area filled with artists (Judson Studios and El Alisal are nearby).
In 1910, he co-founded the printing firm of Browne and Cartwright. That same year, he convinced both USC and Occidental College to launch their own newspapers, a daily for the former (what became The Daily Trojan) and a weekly for the latter. Browne remained Occidental’s unofficial printer for more than thirty years.
Inspired by Elbert Hubbard’s Roycrofters, Browne moved a garage on his land and, in the summer of 1915, began the decade-long project of building his home, Abbey San Encino.
Browne modeled the home on a variety of places, like the Mary Queen of Scots Chapel at Holyrood Castle, the San Francisco de Solano Mission at Sonoma, and Carmel's San Carlos Borromeo Mission. He built a narrow gauge railway to carry stone from the nearby Arroyo Seco, and used odds and ends – nails, bolts, ship lanterns, iron, lumber, hinges, crucifixes, etc. – from ruined buildings across Europe. While continuing to write poems and plays and running his printing business, Browne scavenged granite blocks from a demolished building on Grand, sheet metal from old cars, bricks from a poultry yard, an abandoned brickyard, and the Mission San Gabriel, and bells from an elementary school, a Southern Pacific locomotive, and a fire engine. Much of the home’s stained glass came from the Van Nuys Hotel, closing its doors when Prohibition hit. While the majority of the work was finished by 1921, it wasn’t until July of 1924 when the family moved in.
Clyde Browne built much of the Abbey himself, originally calling the home “The Studio”, and then “The Old Stone Abbey” which evolved into “”Oldestane Abbey”. Upon a friend’s suggestion, he eventually settled on “Abbey San Encino”.
Browne loved all things medieval, and this shows in the building’s cellar, dungeons, refectory, and chapel, the last in which were held many weddings, often with Browne playing organ.
The big, round stained-glass window on the building’s south side depicts a Franciscan printer along with an American Indian boy working a handpress. Local tile maker Ernest Batchelder designed the Abbey’s fireplace. Later, several other stone buildings were put up on the property to serve as artist studios.
In 1934, Browne was Chairman of the Democratic Committee, and he ran for State Assembly. Clyde Browne died on July 1, 1942. His shop was closed up, the printing equipment sold.
Unless he’s sold the property and I didn’t get the newsletter, Abbey San Encino is owned by Edward Severin Browne, Clyde’s grandson. Severin’s brother, Clyde Jackson Browne, who, along with Severin, grew up in the Abbey, had a brief cameo in a 2003 episode of The Simpsons. Today, the land is pretty well fenced-off, but you can still see the home okay from the Arroyo Glen side.
A great big thanks to Michael Thompson of Michael R. Thompson Booksellers, who shared with me his sole, reference copy of 1982’s Clyde Browne: His Abbey and His Press, written by D.W. Davies for Castle Press. (Not coincidentally, Castle Press being founded in 1931 out of Abbey San Encino.)
Up next: McClure House