Thursday, January 17, 2008

No. 106 - Abbey San Encino

San Encino Abbey

Abbey San Encino
1915 – Clyde Browne
6211 Arroyo Glen, Garvanza – map
Declared: 11/15/72

Okay. For starters. Abbey San Encino is A) not an abbey, and B) not in San Encino.

Printer/typographer Clyde Browne was born in Old Hickory, Ohio, in the summer of 1872. By the time he was twelve years old, his family had moved eight times, leapfrogging back and forth between Ohio, California, Missouri, and Kansas. It was in San Francisco when Clyde was about fifteen that he got a job on the Petaluma Imprint.

After serving as a cabin boy and apprentice sailor, Browne jumped ship in 1893 and headed back to Northern California where he worked for a series of newspapers around San Francisco. He also made a living for a while as a piano player in the Barbary Coast area.

San Encino Abbey

Browne and his wife moved to Los Angeles around 1902/1903. In 1904, he went to work at the Los Angeles Examiner. He quit the paper four years later and, with Grace Wassum, his new wife (his first died in 1904), left his home around Fifth and Hill downtown, moving into a frame building on Figueroa (then named Pasadena Avenue). He quickly began renovating the house along with setting up a print shop, nicknamed “The Studio”, with Grace serving as a typesetter. It was Browne’s dream to form a sort of artists’ collective in what was already an area filled with artists (Judson Studios and El Alisal are nearby).

San Encino Abbey

In 1910, he co-founded the printing firm of Browne and Cartwright. That same year, he convinced both USC and Occidental College to launch their own newspapers, a daily for the former (what became The Daily Trojan) and a weekly for the latter. Browne remained Occidental’s unofficial printer for more than thirty years.

Inspired by Elbert Hubbard’s Roycrofters, Browne moved a garage on his land and, in the summer of 1915, began the decade-long project of building his home, Abbey San Encino.

San Encino Abbey

Browne modeled the home on a variety of places, like the Mary Queen of Scots Chapel at Holyrood Castle, the San Francisco de Solano Mission at Sonoma, and Carmel's San Carlos Borromeo Mission. He built a narrow gauge railway to carry stone from the nearby Arroyo Seco, and used odds and ends – nails, bolts, ship lanterns, iron, lumber, hinges, crucifixes, etc. – from ruined buildings across Europe. While continuing to write poems and plays and running his printing business, Browne scavenged granite blocks from a demolished building on Grand, sheet metal from old cars, bricks from a poultry yard, an abandoned brickyard, and the Mission San Gabriel, and bells from an elementary school, a Southern Pacific locomotive, and a fire engine. Much of the home’s stained glass came from the Van Nuys Hotel, closing its doors when Prohibition hit. While the majority of the work was finished by 1921, it wasn’t until July of 1924 when the family moved in.

San Encino Abbey

Clyde Browne built much of the Abbey himself, originally calling the home “The Studio”, and then “The Old Stone Abbey” which evolved into “”Oldestane Abbey”. Upon a friend’s suggestion, he eventually settled on “Abbey San Encino”.

Browne loved all things medieval, and this shows in the building’s cellar, dungeons, refectory, and chapel, the last in which were held many weddings, often with Browne playing organ.

The big, round stained-glass window on the building’s south side depicts a Franciscan printer along with an American Indian boy working a handpress. Local tile maker Ernest Batchelder designed the Abbey’s fireplace. Later, several other stone buildings were put up on the property to serve as artist studios.

San Encino Abbey

In 1934, Browne was Chairman of the Democratic Committee, and he ran for State Assembly. Clyde Browne died on July 1, 1942. His shop was closed up, the printing equipment sold.

Unless he’s sold the property and I didn’t get the newsletter, Abbey San Encino is owned by Edward Severin Browne, Clyde’s grandson. Severin’s brother, Clyde Jackson Browne, who, along with Severin, grew up in the Abbey, had a brief cameo in a 2003 episode of The Simpsons. Today, the land is pretty well fenced-off, but you can still see the home okay from the Arroyo Glen side.

San Encino Abbey

A great big thanks to Michael Thompson of Michael R. Thompson Booksellers, who shared with me his sole, reference copy of 1982’s Clyde Browne: His Abbey and His Press, written by D.W. Davies for Castle Press. (Not coincidentally, Castle Press being founded in 1931 out of Abbey San Encino.)

Up next: McClure House


victoratomic said...

I've always seen this building from the Metro Gold Line as it passed over the Arroyo. Now Im going to drive to the location and be nosey as well :)

Anonymous said...

Severin is a friend, and I've always loved his home. I was not aware of the history. Its just a lovely, calming place.

Anonymous said...

I too call Severin a friend... I've had the honor to lend my assistance when ever the Abbey was in need of repairs. It's an amazing structure. And as anonymous said... it is indeed a calming place.

Leigh said...

I stumbled past this place when an accident on the 110 forced a road closure and we were routed through the neighborhood. The building got my attention and I went to the 'net to find out what it was, and its history. Thank you so much for answering my questions!

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Leigh. Unless you're on the Gold Line like victoratomic or friends with owner like the anons, you'd probably never catch this place. I'm glad you did.

Miss Havisham said...

Isn't that where Jackson Brown lives? Or, it was his family home.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Miss Havisham, based on the comments here, it looks as though Severin, Jackson's brother, still lives in the house.

Anonymous said...

The history of the Abbey tells of Jackson Browne and his siblings growing up in the Abbey. Although the property is fenced for some privacy and security, be assured that Jackson Browne's brother Severin (a lesser-known singer-songwriter than Jackson)and his wife live in the Abbey today.

Anonymous said...

The inner courtyard, which is behind the fence, is pictured on Jackson Browne's second album, "For Everyman", and is as beautiful as the outside of the home.

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, anonymous. I thought I had linked to a shot of Jackson sitting in the doorway, but I guess I didn't. I will certainly look at the LP, one of my favorites of his and just one of a long string of great records, I think.

Anonymous said...

And yet another anonymous friend of Severin talks - Sev and his lovely wife Melinda live there, and like one of the other anon. said, it is a calming and beautiful place where there is often music floating out from the courtyard, or chapel.

Janette said...

I stayed there in '83 while visiting a musical friend who was living at the Abbey. Severin was a down-to-earth host and all around good person and the home was not fenced in then. The sounds of water in the fountain were, yes peaceful. The buildings were full of life.

Anonymous said...

Through a friend, I was able to visit the Abbey several times many years ago. I was really struck by its simple beauty, and the fact that it has withstood so many earthquakes without toppling. It should also be noted that Jackson wrote much of his "Late for Sky" album in the Abbey's chapel. The cover house on "Late for Sky," btw, is located across town in the Hancock Park neighborhood. Don't know why that house was chosen, but it's a little underwhelming to see it (especially without the spectacular lighting on the cover).

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, anonymous. Late for the Sky is my favorite album of Jackson Browne's, so that's nice to know. I also had no idea the Late for the Sky house is in Hancock Park. If you or anyone knows the address, I'd love to know it, too.

Charles said...


If you are still interested in taking a tour, Severin is opening his home for a rare one-day wine and cheese event fundraiser to help fund historic preservation in North East Los Angeles. For more info, visit​1.html

Floyd B. Bariscale said...

Thanks, Charles. I may just sign up.

QT said...

Abbey San Encino Wine and Cheese Fund Raiser and Tour for Preservation Advocacy
Highland Park Heritage Trust is sponsoring a rare opportunity to tour Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #106.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
6211 Arroyo Glen, Highland Park, CA 90042

11:00 AM to 5:00 PM Docent-led Tours given every 45 minutes
Only 120 reservations, 15 people per tour, $40 per person includes refreshments and tour
Reservations online at - select Abbey San Encino Fundraiser button to choose tour time and use Pay Pal to secure reservations
Not recommended for those with difficulty walking on uneven terrain
No wheelchairs

Anonymous said...


ROB said...

Does anyone have any info on the house behind the abbey? Seems like it might be the same property. Really neat craftsman pagoda looking thing that is disintegrating into the ground. I'm dreaming of saving it...

Anonymous said...

ROB... That house was purchased by Jackson to keep a developer from tearing it down and building a less desirable structure a little too close to the Abbey. It remains vacant.

Anonymous said...

I am hoping to shoot a video at this location. Does anyone know the managers contact? or how I could go about finding it?
Thank you

Scottford said...

Look at this booklet I found in an old photograph album from my grandfather.