‘Pomona A to Z’: S is for Spadra

[Spadra was a natural choice for the letter S when I was writing this series. Not only is Spadra a crucial part of Pomona’s origins, but people remain fascinated by the place, mostly because of its cemetery and the legends about frontier life and mysterious deaths. I’ve been in the library’s special collections room more than once when some young person has come in to inquire politely about Spadra.

Mickey Gallivan of the Historical Society will be the first to tell you she plays up the drama because that’s what people want to hear about Spadra. Too bad people persist in trespassing in the cemetery, which is private, and trashing the place. Not very respectful.

This column was first published Jan. 23, 2005.]

Suddenly, ‘Pomona A to Z’ spotlights Spadra

Salaam, sahibs! “Pomona A to Z” today surveys the letter S for a symbol to sum up the city. There’s such a surfeit, we won’t have to scrounge.

So silence, please, as we sequester ourselves in our shacks and shanties, there to solemnly scan the scads of specimens:

* Sugar Shane Mosley, the boxer, and Suga Free, the rapper, who hail from Pomona. Sweet!

* The stylish stables built in 1909 for City Hall’s horses in those pre-car days. They still stand at White and Monterey.

* Sacred Heart, St. Madeleine’s and St. Joseph’s, three churches serving the Catholic population.

* Special Collections, the room at the Public Library where you can research Pomona’s past.

* Soap Opera Laundry, whose sign bears the image of a washing machine with TV-style rabbit ears.


As you’d suspect, those only scratch the surface. We should also stop to salute Stan Selby, who led the Pomona Concert Band for an astounding 47 years until his death last November.

But our S is something different: Spadra.

Now absorbed into west Pomona, Spadra lay roughly between today’s Valley and Mission boulevards on either side of the 57 Freeway.

The village sprung up in 1866 along a stagecoach line, then began crumbling a decade later as the railroad passed it by. All that’s left is the stately Phillips Mansion, which was built in 1875 and looks a lot like the house in “Psycho,” and a rather sad cemetery.

Residents never saw the end coming. When the upstart settlement of Pomona began in 1875, Spadra’s oldtimers derided it as “Monkey Town,” for reasons that remain obscure.

“They just thought Pomona would never be anything,” said Mickey Gallivan, president of the Historical Society of the Pomona Valley.

But it wasn’t just Spadra that had a short life. So did an alarming number of people who lived there.

As “The Village That Died,” a Historical Society booklet, puts it darkly: “The village of Spadra was characterized by murder, suicide and mysterious deaths.”

Maybe S should be for s-s-s-spooky.

Many Spadra stories start at Billy Rubottom’s inn, which is also where Spadra began. He’d bought 100 acres from Louis Phillips and set up shop along the Butterfield stage line.

To call Rubottom a colorful figure is like saying Shakespeare was a fair writer.

A rough frontiersman, he was wanted in his native Arkansas for killing two men with a knife. (I’m referring to Rubottom, not Shakespeare.)

And in El Monte, Rubottom shot his own son-in-law to death. Even more destructively, he’s been blamed for importing California’s first opossums.

Rubottom may have been the meanest man in Spadra, but he had competition — even from a man of the cloth.

In 1872, the Rev. William Standifer, a farmer, angrily confronted the town constable, knocking him down twice. A bullet in the shoulder from the constable’s gun only made Standifer madder. So the next bullet found the minister’s heart.

Spadra also saw a murder-suicide between two lovers and an ex-con stabbed to death by his brother-in-law, among other untimely demises. As recently as this month, January 2005, a ghostly figure has been reported in the Phillips Mansion.

The cemetery in Spadra has 212 graves, officially.

If you were killed in a barfight at Rubottom’s for, say, cheating at cards, “the rumor is they just dragged you off to the cemetery and buried you,” Gallivan said. “So there are probably more than 212 people buried there.”

The name Spadra, by the way, was stolen by Rubottom from his hometown in Arkansas. According to Gloria Ricci Lathrop’s “Pomona: A Centennial,” though, it was his second choice.

The valley was already known as San Jose from its days under Spanish rule. But Rubottom’s application for a post office by that name was rejected, because California already had a San Jose.

He succeeded with the name Spadra. We know it as Spah-dra, although the Arkansas pronunciation is said to be Spay-dra.

Opened in 1868, the Spadra post office was among the first half-dozen in California. The village was off to a good start.

Settled mostly by poor families fleeing the South, bustling Spadra soon had a school, a major road, warehouses for trade goods, three stores and two blacksmiths. All it lacked was a Starbucks.

Unfortunately, it soon lacked more than that. While Southern Pacific extended its line eastward to Spadra in 1874, by the next year the line went as far as Colton.

The train didn’t stop in Spadra anymore, and almost no one else did, either.

So long, Spadra.

(David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, sentimentally.)

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