Sophie Williamson – Foothill Land Baron
Over the years, I have heard that properties that come up for sale or development on Foothill Boulevard often have the Williamson name attached to them. In fact, most of the commercial lots along Foothill between La Crescenta and Pennsylvania avenues were owned by Sophie and Will Williamson at one time or another. Before Sophie married Williamson, they belonged to her by inheritance from her first husband.
Here’s Sophie’s story, gleaned from old news articles (so take this with a grain of salt):
Sophie was born before the turn of the century in the Black Forest region of Germany. She was a beautiful young woman and was elected “Queen of the May” in the German town she grew up in. She was sent to Los Angeles in the early teens by her wealthy parents. According to conflicting accounts, it was either because of the fear of the gathering clouds of WWI or because of a tuberculosis diagnosis. She took a job as a governess for the children of silent film star Francis X. Bushman. His home was then on Hollywood Boulevard, about where the Chinese Theater is.
In 1917, she married Reinhold Toschke, another German. He was attracted to the Crescenta Valley like other Germans, along with French and Italians immigrants, because of the Crescenta Valley’s vast vineyards for wine production. Reinhold and Sophie lived in an ancient house surrounded by grape vines at 3008 Foothill Boulevard (today’s Office Depot). According to Sophie, the house had been started in 1888 with railroad ties and hand-forged spikes. It was added on to over the years to create a rambling house among tall eucalyptus trees. Reinhold had a vineyard stretching along Foothill, from Pennsylvania Avenue to La Crescenta Avenue.
An old newspaper article gives a beautiful view of what the valley was like then, and it quotes Sophie: “[Sophie] … remembers pure air, ever-blue skies and deer grazing in the grape vineyards planted by her husband, the late Reinhold Toschke, her first husband and the owner of the first bonded winery in the area. ‘One school served the entire valley’ she recalls, ‘and the only shopping center was at Weatherby’s, a combination market and post office.’ One of the forms of entertainment available to the early homesteaders was the early ‘movies,’ lantern slides shown in the local schoolhouse.”
On the downside, Sophie remembered “the wood stove she cooked on many years ago, the coal oil lamps that required cleaning every day and the rattlesnakes that lurked in the vineyards.”
Reinhold died leaving Sophie the sole owner of all that property along Foothill. Sophie remarried, this time to W.O. “Will” Williamson who owned Williamson Oldsmobile on Foothill. The Williamsons lived in that original house on Foothill. The couple traveled extensively – Europe, Mexico, South America, Asia – but especially to Sophie’s home town in Germany. They filled the house with items they brought back, such as wooden furniture from Spain, antiques from Germany, Asian art and furnishings. The items were distributed through the rambling home in living rooms, parlors and sitting rooms, giving the place the atmosphere of a more gracious time.
Sophie and William were involved in the community. One example is that when Glendale annexed half of the Crescenta Valley, leaving the unincorporated section with no library, the Williamsons used their own money and land to build a library for the community.
Sophie was a fan of Mercedes Benz automobiles and owned four in her lifetime. She even made automotive news when in 1952 she bought the first Mercedes 170 imported to the United States.
They enjoyed living near the fine restaurants that Vince Dundee created a couple of doors down from their home, the Kona Kai and Guv’nors, but were less fond of CV’s only disco, Sherlock’s, in the same location.
Sophie died in 1982, followed the next year by Will. Having no children, their estate was apparently left to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic organization dedicated to serving the elderly poor. Sophie Toschke Williamson had a long and interesting life. She was an early pioneer of CV who dearly loved the valley.