Monday, February 28, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: The Lemon Lacerations

This is our latest entry in the Magpie Tales series.

When Tede Truxler's confrontational photo essay exhibit "The Lemon Lacerations" was unveiled at the San Gabriel Valley Art Association's Spring Solstice exhibit in Monrovia in April of 1962, it did far more than raise eyebrows. How could this Cal Tech junior and great grand daughter of one of the Valley's pioneers create such confrontational images that seemed to cut at the very core of the area's culture and history?

To understand, we must go back to 1879 when Trudy Truxler, a recently divorce young woman of 22 arrived in what was then known as La Cienega Mud Springs and would eventually become San Dimas and home of Sunkist and other iconic citrus brands.

But Trudy -- a tough cookie with a shot-gun, moxie and a dream -- was the first to package fruit and send it east, launching the Harmony Brand. Around 1883 she developed a not entirely cladenstine relationship with Glendale attorney Asa V. Jessup, a married father of six and deacon in the Missionary Baptist Church. When Trudy gave birth to her twins, Randall and Russell Truxler, she gave little mind to the gossip or the snickers of neighbor children who dubbed the boys the Romulus and Remus of La Cienega Mud Springs. Randall was tragically killed just after turning eight when caught in the rushing water of Putah Creek during the torrential rains of late January. Russell worked steadily in the lemon groves and would soon be running the business with Trudy who named him chief of operations on his 18th birthday.
By the turn of the Century, Harmony was one of the most successful citrus packagers in the west. Russell had married into Pasadena's most respected families, the Troxdales of the railroad and telegraph fortunes, and his first born, Tessie Claire, was the model for many of the Harmony brand labels. His wife, Lurelle, gave tea parties attended by the Valley's most prestigious women. Tea might not always include sugar and milk and dainty English biscuits, but wedges of lemon were always artfully displaying on the china service.

Trudy refused to conform to her expected role of the grand old lady of the valley and was known to spit tobacco into a small tin can she carried to the San Gabriel Valley Citrus Growers Association at the Hotel L'Orange on Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard. And the otherwise all male institution never voted her an officer though she was one of the most successful in their ranks and had a fortune that equaled their summed assets.

When Trudy died in 1911, all the Valley's aristocracy came out and praised her with platitudes they denied her during her life time. "An inspiration and model of Christian virtue," read one of the shallow, insincere tributes from one of the many citrus growers angling to buy up part of the Truxler groves.
Having no time to morn the loss of the visionary matriarch, Russell had the vision for a new outlet for Harmony, launching Lemonland in 1913, California's first true theme park that predated Disneyland by nearly half a century.

Though some of its exhibits and rides bordered on the bizarre -- such as the 40 foot citrus tikis at the entrance -- it drew crowds from as far away as Eugene and Boulder.

Between Lemonland and contracts with both Safeway and A&P, the Truxler fortunes only increased in the subsequent years, and they sailed through the depression without a care.

Their parties at the family mansion, Truxlerala, were legendary. Until Hearst Castle was built, it was the largest private home west of the Mississippi.

In the postwar years, Harmony continued strong but seemed to plateau and slowly saw operation costs rise as real estate development encroached the Valley and higher paying jobs took away cheap labor.

Yet LIFE magazine did a feature on the firm and Russell, modestly dressed in farm clothes in an article titled "The Lemon of His Eye". Russell's daughter Tessie Claire, one of the most successful realtors in the Valley, was quoted as saying "My father's dream is to build an opera house named after my grandmother." Tessie's brother Clement was shown with his baby daughter Tede, said to have the same brilliant violet eyes of her great grandmother and an equally independent spirit.

After Russell's death in 1957, Lemonland eventually closed, and the family introduced Truxlerite, a chemical substance that claimed to have "essence of lemon juice extract" but was mostly a chemical compound created in a lab at Cal Tech. By the time Eisenhower left the White House, most of their income from providing the all important citrus scent in dish soap, toilet bowl cleaners and other "lemon inspired" products.

It was around the same time that Tede's "independent spirit" at St. Gremadine Academy was blossoming into full rebellion. She excelled in no class but photographic arts and shocked the academy when she used remote control cameras to capture nuns unawares on their toilets and in their showers. The Eye of Creation Gallery in Santa Monica was the first to exhibit her show "Breaking Habits" that earned such scorn from the Diocese that even Bing Crosby wrote a scathing letter to the LA Times condemning it. "NOT Going My Way" the headline to his letter read.

So it was not a complete shock when Tede's exhibit of blood strewn citrus, of bananas performing vulgar acts on kiwis was unveiled. Yet a lone critic from Horizon arts quarterly praised it as a beacon amongst the hubris of the New Frontier. Soon the exhibit was praised from Venice Beach to the canals of Venice. Tede resettled in Buenos Aires until the military junta when she returned to Los Angeles, a city as changed as she was. Having exhausted her range in still photography, she had a brief career as a script doctor with American International Pictures and later Avco Embassy before working in television. From the late 1970s onward, she worked on a teleplay about her great-grandmother called "Lemon Lady" and had serious talks with Meredith Baxter Birney about playing the role of Trudy. Financing never came through, and Tede was so intent that she seriously considered selling the shopping mall in San Dimas where Lemonland once stood and whose property her family still owned.

Today Tede dedicates most of her time to collage, paintings of lemons and selling Beanie Babies on Ebay from her condo in Pomona. The Truxler legend may have lost its luster, but there are those who speculate that Tede still has one last act she has yet to unveil.

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At 11:24 PM, Blogger spacedlaw said...

A most excellent story!

At 4:45 AM, Blogger thingy said...

To this day, my grandmother talks wistfully of the time she visited Lemonland.

At 7:00 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Spacedlaw = Thanks.

Thingy - Their ads always said "A place you will someday tell your children all about it."

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Tess Kincaid said...

"Lemon lacerations" is so great. You always have me giggling with your opening line!

At 6:40 PM, Blogger Tumblewords: said...

Wow - what a tale - I had no idea!!

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Kim Nelson said...

I am loving Trudy! Fun read.
Mine is so different:

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Mary said...

Lemonland, Breaking, this is a peach of a story!


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