Sanford Rich, the first Mayor of Hollywood
Sanford Rich (far left, standing) at the dedication of the Hollywood Post Office, October 30, 1925 (LAPL)
By Allan R. Ellenberger
Over the past fifty years, Hollywood has had its share of honorary mayors, the last being the ever-popular Johnny Grant. However, not many know that Hollywood had two official elected mayors between the years 1903 and 1910 when it merged with Los Angeles in order to obtain an adequate water supply. The first of those two mayors was Sanford Rich.
Sanford Rich was born at Fort Wayne, Indiana on September 30, 1840, one of five children raised on a farm. He was educated at regional pioneer schools with no other formal learning and would forever regret hi s lack of higher education. He ran away from home at age 16 to escape his stepmother and worked on a relative’s farm. He started a small meat business in Fort Wayne, sold it and moved to Chicago where he again opened a butcher shop.
In 1878 he returned to Fort Wayne where he built the Rich Hotel and managed the retail store of the Swift Packing Company. Soon he moved to San Jose, California, to manage the Swift plant there, and then returned to Chicago. In 1900 he retired, came to Los Angeles and rented a house on Jefferson Street.
Looking east at the intersection of Hollywood and Gower. The Rich home is at the far right. (LAPL)
Above is the same intersection today. The Rich home once stood on the far right corner below the tall billboard.
In 1901, Rich bought the Goode property which was east of Gower Street and south of Hollywood Boulevard (then Prospect Avenue), where he built his home at 6048 Hollywood Boulevard. The ambitious home he built for his wife Elizabeth was furnished in such regal style that it became one of the town’s showplaces. Though the house was too large for two people (one child was born to them but died in infancy), eventually 35 relatives arrived in Hollywood beginning with his brother Edwin and his family. The home was planned for their hospitality and enjoyment.
At this point, Rich who was in his 60s, was a man of medium height, firm build, gray hair and eyes, serious in demeanor, retiring disposition, a sincere Christian gentleman, definite in his opinions though reticent in expression. He looked the efficient business man – mature and experienced, quick and alert always well groomed, meeting everyone with a friendly smile and handshake.
Although never a politician, Rich was part of the successful effort to incorporate Hollywood as a sixth class city on November 14, 1903, and was elected as a trustee for the new corporation. On November 25, after several more bond issues were hammered out, Sanford Rich was elected by popular vote to be Hollywood’s first mayor. The following April, Rich was reelected by a unanimous vote. Rich presided over approximately 1,000 citizens during his term as mayor. Hollywood had only one other mayor, George H. Dunlop, before the community was annexed to the city of Los Angeles in 1910.
Rich soon recognized real property values and during his thirty years of real estate activity subdivided twenty-three separate tracts in Hollywood, among which were: northeast corner of Bronson and Franklin. Southeast corner of Bronson and Franklin, northeast Hollywood and Vine to Franklin; northeast corner Sunset and Gower, except the corner lot; southeast corner Vine and Sunset; south of Fountain east of Gower; west of Argyle near Selma; the tracts ranging in size from two acres in the last to sixty acres north of Los Feliz.
Besides being Hollywood’s first mayor, Rich was one of the organizers of the Board of Trade, chairman of the first Board of Trustees of the City of Hollywood, Director of the Hollywood National Bank and Citizens’ Savings Bank, and deacon of the Hollywood Christian Church where he made considerable gifts.
Many times over the years Rich would attend official Hollywood functions as Hollywood’s first mayor, including the dedication of the new Post Office, the occasional ground breaking ceremony and Hollywood’s annual birthday celebration which was held at Plummer Park.
Sanford Rich home at 6048 Hollywood Boulevard (demolished) (Courtesy of Felicia Korengel)
Family members recalled the Rich home – as the Mayor’s residence – was splendid with lovely satin divans and drapes and elegant furniture. “Uncle San and Aunt Lizzie” were favorites and the children recalled Aunt Lizzie in her black satin dresses and tiny black satin shoes. Her eyes were so blue and seemed to be always smiling. Lizzie died on May 25, 1926 and was buried in the family plot at Hollywood Cemetery. Within a year, Rich was remarried to Sarah Miller, who was also recently widowed.
On June 9, 1930, Sanford Rich died at the age of 89, after being diagnosed with pneumonia a few days earlier. The funeral was held at the Hollywood Christian Church, 1717 N. Gramercy Place. A deeply religious man, Rich left his valuable home and other property on Hollywood Boulevard to the church, of which he was a member for 31 years, with the stipulation:
“We want it to be clearly understood by the present and succeeding Official Boards that none of the proceeds of the above described property be used as salary or compensation for any minister or missionary who while so employed in his teachings or practices opposes or fails to advocate the pleas of the people known as Christians or Disciples of Christ…”
Sanford Rich was buried next to his first wife Elizabeth at Hollywood Cemetery.