The marriage-related Bonadamin and Passarini families were among the first to put down roots, around 1889, in the area to which Herman Silver would soon give his name. Fortunately we have the meticulous notes kept by Mary Bonadamin, eldest daughter of Carlo and Domenica Bonadamin to help us flesh out the joint family’s history. According to Mary’s records, Carlo’s parents, Emanuele and Moira Bonadamin, along with Carlo and his siblings Vegilio, Rachele, Raphael, Florian, Santa and David, were sent off from a small town in the Austrian Alps to the New World, along with a group of Austrian families to assist in the colonization of Mexico, then under the rule of Maximilian I, the younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Napoleon III of France, who had invaded Mexico in 1861, had schemed with Franz Joseph to put Maximilian on the Mexican throne in 1864. To help legitimize the takeover, hundreds of Austrian citizens were compelled to leave their homeland and settle in the new colony.
The Bonadamins were cast ashore on a stretch of barren beach near present-day Veracruz, and along with the others, expected to scratch out a living. Emanuele found it difficult to find any kind of work in the nearby towns; conditions were worsened by the fact that Maximilian’s rule was being hotly contested by Benito Juarez, the leader of a rebellion. The combination of factors led the Bonadamins to take flight across the border to Texas, where their prospects might improve. No sooner had they departed, however, the men were arrested by colonial gendarmes and thrown into jail for desertion. After a considerable time had passed, Maximilian’s wife, Carlota, persuaded him to let them go-just in time, it turns out, as Maximilian would soon be captured and executed by Juarez’s forces. Prospects in Texas turned out to be not much better, as the families soon found out. After an exploratory trip to California, Emanuele, Carlo and Rachele set out for Los Angeles, finding temporary lodging near the old Plaza Church near present-day Olvera Street, and found work performing various odd jobs until they had saved enough money to send for the rest of the family.
But their collective heart was for the land. The Bonadamins were drawn to the rolling farmlands of Edendale. In 1889, they rented a 60-acre ranch above Sunset Boulevard, between Angelus Avenue and Benton Way, where they planted wheat and hay and raised horses, cattle, hogs and chickens. A canal from the Los Angeles River traversed the land from which they drew water, to irrigate their crops as well as for domestic use.
Other families had joined the Bonadamins in the move from Texas including Antonio And Francesca Passarini and their daughter Domenica. In 1891, Carlo Bonadamin married Domenica Passarini, and together they had four children. In her diary, Mary writes about growing up at the ranch: “We would hitch up a wagon and take it to town where we sold our products and purchased items that the farm didn’t produce. My brothers and sisters would peddle the milk ourselves; the going price was five cents a pint, seven cents a gallon. To navigate the steep hills, residents developed a unique form of conveyance. A team of mules pulled a cart on the uphill route, and going downhill, the mules were put on the cart with the passengers for a free ride while coasting downhill”.
As with many early Silver Lake tales, the Bonadamin-Passarini saga mingles the agrarian past with the motion picture future. In addition to functioning as a working farm, the property doubled as a set for many silent-era movies. Mary recalls her mother making breakfast and lunch for the “people making movies” and watching Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops, Roscoe Arbuckle and other comics as they went through their zany antics.
The movie industry and the real estate boom it helped spur, eventually did in the ranch, and the property was subdivided. The family moved up to a “modern” house up the hill, built by Carlo and still standing at 1533 McCollum Street.
Adapted from Silver Lake Chronicles: Exploring an Urban Oasis in Los Angeles, Michael Locke with Vincent Brook, History Press, 2014. Please do not use this material in any media without my permission. © All rights reserved.