2018 HERITAGE AWARD RECIPIENT
The Redlands Area Historical Society, Inc.
Charles A. Brown Home
550 West Sunset Drive
Welcome to this Spanish Colonial masterpiece located at 550 West Sunset Drive, circa 1933. On April 26, 1933, the San Bernardino Sun reported that Charles A. Hunter an architect out of Palm Springs will have plans finished within a month for the Charles A. Brown home to be built on Sunset Drive adjoining the Clarence G. White estate on the West. Prior to the plans being finished, the “extensive site” was already being improved with pipe lines and landscaping. By June 28th, contractors Ernest Off and Ray Wilson of Palm Springs had submitted the building permit for this estimated $20,800 estate on four acres.
By July 13th of the same year excavation for the massive basement was being completed. An article in the San Bernardino Sun noted,
Contractor Has 10 Men on House Work-Excavation was being completed yesterday for the basement and foundations of Charles A. Brown’s new $20,000 home on Sunset Drive. Ten Redlands men are employed on the job by Contractor Lew Gist, who will start pouring concrete today. Off & Wilson of Palm Springs, the general contractors, will start erecting the frame of the new structure when Gist’s crew finishes with the concrete.
This amount of local men on one job was notable due to the number of years we were into the Great Depression. In total, only five homes were built in the City of Redlands that year and none to this level of expense. Brick and stone mason, Lew Gist, also built the iconic Panorama Point lookout. In August another newspaper article notes M. L. Chauncey would install $3,000 worth of furnaces and the first ever air-conditioning system in Redlands. It was stated in this same article that the residence is now at a $30,000 price tag.
Upon the completion of construction Mr. Charles A. Brown deeded the front corner of his lot to the City in preparation for the rounding of Sunset Drive. This was a generous gift to the city for the once deemed scenic trail widened and paved in 1936.
Charles A. Brown came to Redlands with his wife as a retired attorney from Chicago of Brown, Boelicher & Dienner, Patent Attorneys. Brown was a sailor, horseback rider, member of Union League, Ruth Lake Country Club, Hinsdale Golf Club, Mays Lake Hunt Club, and The Law Club.
On Tuesday, June 14, 1938, Winifred Brown Ghrist, daughter of Charles and Caroline, married Dr. George E. Malmgren, a practicing physician with offices on Wilshire Blvd. The quiet ceremony held on the sprawling grounds of the Sunset estate was read by Reverend Williams Cowans, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church at 11:30 A.M.
By 1939 Mr. Brown had passed away and left Caroline C. Brown a widow at the Sunset home. In late 1943 R. S. Rhoades, Los Angeles geologist with extensive oil interests purchased the home from widow Brown when she moved on to the Claremont Inn. Rhoades owned the home for a very short time, only four years. His mother Ella S. Rhoades passed away after only six months in Redlands. She is buried at Hillside Memorial Cemetery.
In October 1930 Colonel Donald A. Stevning marries Charlotte Hall Brown. By 1947 Mr. Stevning and his wife reside at 550 W Sunset. Stevning had tremendous ties to the Coachella Valley through his professional and personal lifetime. Commonly known as “Don”, he was the General Manager of the L. V. W. Brown Estate, a citrus shipping firm in Highland, Riverside, and the Coachella Valley. Another article in 1967 announces his appointment as the Chairman of the state Chamber of Commerce agricultural committee and the Citrus Institute Chairman for the 1960 National Orange Show.
Mrs. Stevning was a standout member of the Assistance League, held many significant seats, and hosted dozens of events at the Sunset home to the delight of her guests. The power couple was mentioned in one newspaper alone 258 times over the course of their marriage duration in Redlands. The pair divorced in August 1971 in Riverside County. Donald A. Stevning passed away on November 16, 1996 at the age of 89. He had been residing in Rancho Mirage Ca.
On May 29th of 1997, escrow closes and the estate was sold to Paul G Emerson II and wife Elizabeth for $790,000. Mr. Emerson is best known for his fine Jewelry craftsmanship and passion for creativity. Paul’s grandfather was Gustaf N. Emerson, known as a masterful artist creating thousands of paintings over his lifetime; he was noted as Paul’s “childhood idol”. In 2001 Paul the II purchased what was previously Clifford Farrar, Inc on State Street. He retained the Farrar name along with his, making it Emerson & Farrar. Paul and Elizabeth lived in Sunset for 12 years.
550 W Sunset sits much in its original state as it did when construction was completed in late 1933. A horseshoe drive greets you centered by the English style gardens in a clover shape at the prominent bend of Sunset. Early plantings of trees, bushes, and flowers prove to be a success by 1936. The grounds were designed to have something flowering and in bloom year-round and still do to this day. Residents and guests alike are beckoned to enter the south courtyard garden by a cerulean color, hand crafted wooden door adorned with a clover like pattern including five cutouts. The pattern symbolizes power, wealth, happiness, and luck. Upon entering the massive courtyard, you are transported into a place of the past. Prominent features here include the original pergolas, loggias, and the serene koi pond. The mature palms, wisteria, and evergreens dance in the afternoon breeze. The east garden features a large curved pergola, manicured hedge walkways, and a terraced rose garden. To the north sits the largest of all outdoor venues. This expansive areas attributes are lush green lawns, sparkling pool, and quite possibly one of the most breathtaking north facing views in Redlands. Flanking the north garden on the west side are 13 varieties of fruit producing trees, and a plethora of herbs and vegetables.
The south facing entrance to the home has the most striking feature of a full length cross vault walkway supported on the courtyard side by five Tuscan columns and capped with intricately detailed scrolled ornaments. The underside of the walkway has retained the soft seafoam blue green ceiling making the curvatures change color as the light moves through this space.
There are seven chimneys. None are matching and three are purely decorative.
Upon entering the main house, the barrel ceiling foyer is flanked by two significant rooms. To the right is an impressive formal parlor with beamed ceiling and numerous sets of French doors leading to the north and south. One of the most prominent features is the massive concrete fireplace and mantle standing over five feet tall. On the face of the mantle is a Griffin medallion inscrolled with the message of Fidelitas Vincit which translates to Fidelity Wins.
To the left of the foyer sits the formal dining room again adorned with ceiling millwork mimicking the formal living room. The extraordinary feature here are the walls. This dining room has the privilege of being dressed in the finest wall paper known. Zuber is French made since 1797. The panels are wood blocked print on hand brushed background, then finished with vibrant colors. This particular pattern is “EL Dorado”. Jacqueline Kennedy had Zuber hung in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White where it still shines today.
Only one major modification has been done since 1933. In 1955, the Stevning family commissioned Gordon Donald to build a family room on the north side of the dining room and a complete kitchen remodel. The family room features a fireplace wall complete with in door barbeque. The kitchen was finished with all the popular materials of the 1950s, plywood and Formica.
Today, Glenn and Betty Beck reside at this impressive residence. They acquired the property on April 7, 2009. Glenn, a native of Aspen Colorado, founded his business, Beck Oil, Inc. in 1967 in Victorville Ca. Betty is an attorney and her firm Betty Auton-Beck, PLC has been in the Citibank building since the early 1990s. Betty is quoted as saying,
We loved the architecture, the beautiful grounds with so many venues, the overall ambiance and elegant feel. We loved the Montecito/Santa Barbara style. It is large and sprawling with around 6800 sq. ft., yet it feels intimate and non-pretentious.
Glenn and Betty enjoy the panorama view from west to the east of the entire mountain range to the north. From various rooms they enjoy the stunning sunrises and sunsets Redlands is known for.
The Redlands Area Historical Society takes great pride in presenting this 2018 Heritage Home Award to Glenn and Betty Beck this 11th day of June 2018.
Researcher: Jill Huntsinger
Presented 11 June 2018