Santa Monica History Spotlight: Luther A. Ingersoll

January 17, 2019 9:06 AM
by Robyn Carmichael

The History Spotlight focuses on the landmarks, residents and stories that have shaped Santa Monica into what it is today. Content is being produced in partnership with the Santa Monica Landmarks CommissionSanta Monica History Museum and the Santa Monica Daily Press.

Luther A. Ingersoll
Santa Monica’s First Historian

Historian, entrepreneur, community activist, collector, benefactor. Luther A. Ingersoll, Santa Monica’s first historian, is known today for his 1908 magnum opus: Century History, Santa Monica Bay Cities, published by Ingersoll himself. For those with a passion for local history, the 500-page-plus volume is an invaluable resource.

Wide ranging, and full of extraordinary detail – it encompasses a meaty section on the history of California, of Los Angeles County, and finally, and most importantly, of Santa Monica Bay Cities, which include Santa Monica, Ocean Park, Venice, Palms and Sawtelle.

Featured also is an extensive section of biographical sketches (including his own!) enriched by the fact that Ingersoll was personally acquainted with the movers and shakers of the day.

Open the pages of the volume – almost at random – and you will be drawn into a time and place long gone – but formative – to the Santa Monica we know today.

In his acknowledgment, Ingersoll thanks individuals whose names remain familiar to us today – Carrillo, Jones, Kinney, Vawter, Rindge, and many others during those pioneering years. Indeed, there are omissions, reflective of cultural biases of the time – yet even these do not diminish Ingersoll’s significant and enduring contribution.

What do we know about Ingersoll himself? A native of Michigan, born in 1851, he moved west to the Golden State in 1888 – his keen interest in history already well-established. He began his California contributions with a volume on the history of the Central Coast, then San Bernardino County, and finally, the Santa Monica volume.

A search of the Evening Outlook reveals other intriguing dimensions of Luther A. Ingersoll. He was, at least briefly, a real estate entrepreneur, advertising his Ingersoll Palace Cottage Building Company in 1906.

He was an avid collector of photographs and archives, many obtained from original land grant families throughout California – and donated to the Los Angeles Public Library in 1915. Upon the opening of the new Central Library building in 1926, the Outlook reported that a special room was dedicated to the Ingersoll Collection, as well as a dedicated office for Ingersoll himself.

He was a Santa Monica community activist, supporting bond measures to acquire Clover Field and build libraries. He led the Wilshire Trees Protective Association, advocated for a local history curriculum in Santa Monica schools, supported the establishment of a city planning commission and promoted recognition for Santa Monica’s pioneers.

At the time of his death, in 1926, he was at work on an updated history of Santa Monica, covering the years since the original 1908 publication. One can only wonder what became of that manuscript, and of his personal archives.

Ingersoll’s Century history is readily available today, whether through the library or for purchase as a low-priced reprint. The Santa Monica History Museum has a treasure – an original, leather-bound inscribed copy from the original 1908 printing.

Anyone with a smidgen of interest in local history must today be forever indebted to Luther A. Ingersoll, Santa Monica’s first historian.

Adapted from Historian’s Report, Landmarks Commission, May 14, 2018

Authored By

Robyn Carmichael
Marketing and Communications Assistant