Pilkington native achieved success in California

The Wallace family of Pilkington has a long asso­ci­ation with farming in that township, dating back to 1828.

The first Canadian members of the family, George Wallace and his sons, John, Donald, Hugh, and Alex, arrived in Guelph in 1827. After George died a few months later, his widow and four sons settled in Pilkington on Lots 10 and 11, Concession 1. Donald eventually took over 50 of the homestead’s 250 ac­res, but in 1878 he sold out to a nephew and moved to North Dakota, to the band in the east­ern part of that state that was to acquire a significant population of Wellington County expatri­ates.

Donald had a family of seven, most of whom accom­panied him to North Dak­ota. The most significant of them was Alfred Joseph. A.J. Wall­ace, as he was known for most of his adult life, was born on the home farm on Feb. 11, 1853. After attend­ing the local schools he became a teacher at a one-room school in Pilk­ington, but afterwards contin­ued his schooling at Vic­toria University in Toronto, which was then associated closely with the Methodist Church.

Though he claimed his health was too delicate for farm work, and even for a career in the classroom, Wallace nevertheless engaged briefly in farming in the harsh Dakota climate. He soon saw greater opportunities in running a store and engaging in sideline of banking, catering to the needs of merchants and farmers.

After enduring rigours of Dakota winters for seven years, Wallace migrated to California in 1886, at the age of 33. He settled in Pasadena, which was just beginning the boom period of its history. An antecedent of the Santa Fe Rail­road had, the previous fall, completed a line from there west to Los Ange­les, and in May 1887 that line became part of the Santa Fe’s new trans­conti­nental system when ser­vice extended east to San Ber­nar­dino and points east, as far as Chicago.

Pasadena, promoted as a vacation and health resort, had be­come the second largest town in southern California, and was incorporated in 1886. Wallace, often working in partnership with his brother, Frank, quickly became a lead­ing player in the real estate business. Soon he was wealthy and influential. The culmination of his real es­tate ventures was West Adams Heights, a sub­division for the very affluent, which he began to sell in 1901. By then, he had married, and with his wife, Alice, raised a family of two sons and two daughters.

In 1898, Wallace got a foot in the door of another new southern California industry when he invested in a couple of the early companies explor­ing for oil in the Los Angeles area. By then, he had long forgotten his early career as a teacher, as he built an real estate, oil, and banking fortune. One thing he did not forget was his early religious back­ground. He re­mained a stead­fast Methodist, and took lead­ership roles in the church for the rest of his life. Though no longer a teacher, he con­tinued his interest in educa­tion, and served as a trustee of the University of Southern Cali­fornia for years, beginning in 1895.

Wallace was appalled at the political shenanigans and ram­pant corruption that character­ized turn-of-the century politics in southern California, and he became an outspoken advocate of reform. He was also a life-long temperance man and a major figure in the California Anti-Saloon League, which he headed for several years.

He entered politics as an outspoken reformer when he was elected to Los Angeles city council in 1908. He pushed reform ideas, fought graft and cor­ruption, and headed the financial committee in his last year on council. By then, he had established close relations with other re­formers in the state. By 1910, the reform move­ment had considerable momentum. In state election that year, voters elected a progressive, reform-minded Re­pub­lican, Hiram John­son, as governor. His close pal, Wall­ace, followed on his coat-tails to the lieutenant governor’s office. Both were candidates of the Lincoln-Roose­velt League, the reform faction of Cali­for­nia’s Repub­lican Party.

Wallace admired Theodore Roosevelt, who also had sur­vived a deli­cate childhood. He was im­pres­sed by his reforming zeal and plain speaking. He even sported a bushy mous­tache and wire-framed pince-nez glasses, like his hero.

Shortly before the 1910 election, Wallace purchased a 75-acre property and built his personal es­tate. He hired Ar­thur Benton, one of the top Cali­fornia architects of the era, to design a 9,000-square-foot mansion, fashioned after a Scottish cas­tle, and constructed of concrete and stone. The house featured balustrades, stained-glass win­dows, beautifully finished oak panelling, and secret passage­ways. Crafts­men carved thist­les and other Scottish motifs into the woodwork. He named the place La Canada.

The estate, with a large man-made lake, was a show­place. Unfortunately, Wallace’s wife hated it. Something of a snob, she com­plained there was no one of her rank in the area to socialize with.

During their first year in office, Johnson and Wallace man­aged to have the initiative, the referendum, and the recall added to the state’s constitu­tion, providing voters with greater direct democracy than any other jurisdiction in the United States at that time.

In 1912, both became involved in the new Progres­sive Party, established to return Theodore Roosevelt to the White House that year. The attempt failed, and soon after the reform im­pulse started to cool in Cali­fornia, and with it Wallace’s political influence.

He decided not to run for reelection in 1914, but he at­tempted a political comeback in 1921 when he entered the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate nomination. He lost, and at the age of 68, re­tired from elective politics, while remaining a party in­sider. Meanwhile, Wallace had sold La Canada in 1914, largely as a result of the constant nagging of his wife. The castle eventually became better known than its builder. The wife of a subsequent own­er had it painted pink as a revenge on her philandering husband. Local wags dubbed it The Pink Castle.

Wallace wound down his business and political acti­vities in the 1920s, though he still enjoyed political meetings and conventions, and kept a hand in business matters. It does not appear that he ever returned to Canada and Pilk­ington Town­ship, where his cousins continued to farm.

Alfred J. Wallace died on Feb. 23, 1939, 12 days after his 86th birthday. He had led a re­markable life since leaving the family farmstead near Elora, and a very long one, consid­ering the delicate health that had characterized his youth. He was buried in Los Angeles, in the state where he had lived and prospered during the last 53 years of his life.

As memories of A.J. Wall­ace faded, his old estate, La Canada, lingered as a famous landmark. Abandoned in the 1950s, the house enjoyed new life as a favoured location for USC fraternity hazing rituals and drink­ing parties. Later, in the 1980s, it became the setting for several B horror films. Many people in the neighbourhood were convinced that the castle was haunted. A new owner restored it in 1990, re­placing items that had been stolen over the years, and removing the last pink paint.

Wallace, though, re­mains largely a forgotten fig­ure, both in his adopted Cali­fornia and in his birthplace in Wellington.


Stephen Thorning