Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mystery History -- Solved!


Roberta wins with her 12:16 a.m. Wednesday guess "Ah, the joy of research. A crowd at J. Herbert Hall Jewelers, located on Colorado. An immense diamond is (being) placed in the store window."

In the 1910 photo above (uncropped this time), a Pasadena police officer stands guard outside the J. Herbert Hall Company as a small crowd gathers.

Here's an excerpt from The Pasadena Star, Sept. 24, 1910:
Hundreds of people gazed with awe at a big pebble in the window of the J. Herbert Hall company all day today, the awe being due to the fact that the insignificant stone is a diamond 61¾ carats in weight, worth an unknown number of thousands of dollars. All day a policeman in uniform stood beside the window to see that no one smashed the glass and made off with the costly pebble.

The big, smooth, uncut diamond rested on a mirrored placque surrounded by handsome unmounted but finished diamonds which in themselves would have made a considerable display...

...Because of the remarkable interest in the display the big uncut diamond will remain on show all day Monday.
And this is from an article published the day before:
...Mr. Hall anticipates that it will finally produce one perfect forty-two carat stone and, perhaps, some smaller ones...

...for twenty years it has been uncut in the possession of one family. It was found in a river bed in South Africa, pledged for a large loan and finally taken when the loan was unpaid. It is now to be put in finished form, one of the largest diamonds in the west...

...The value of the display is so great that a special policeman will be stationed at the window to thwart any effort at smashing the glass by some expert sneak thief who might chance to hear of the valuable stone...
On Nov. 13, 1899, Canada-born watchmaker and optometrist J. Herbert Hall founded a small optical and jewelry store at 43 E. Colorado St.

Timing is everything. Extensive diamond deposits were discovered in Africa in the late 19th century, and by the early 1900s a new trend had taken hold across America: The average betrothed young woman didn't want to wait for a simple gold wedding band to adorn her third finger, left hand; she wanted a diamond to signify her engagement.

J. Herbert Hall sold his first diamond ring for $22 and the business took off like a rocket, becoming the most popular spot in town for purchasing engagement rings, fine china ("Back then we were the place to go to register china patterns," a former employee said years later), strings of pearls and, of course, tried-and-true gold watches.

When wristwatches came into popularity in 1914, Mr. Hall stocked them to the rafters and made a killing.

A well-known businessman in Pasadena, he was a charter member of the Pasadena Rotary Club, served as president of the Pasadena Merchants Association, commander of the Pasadena Commandery of the Knights Templar (known popularly as the Masonic Temple) and president of the California Gold and Silversmiths Association. He also served on most of the committees of the Tournament of Roses Association over the years.

His philanthropy, which he planned with his wife Sarah, was renowned and much appreciated. Among his many gifts were a swimming pool for the YWCA summer camp in the mountains and monetary donations to local schools for curriculum materials.

In addition to a spacious home, the Halls owned an apartment building on what is now the Fuller Theological Seminary campus. They even commissioned that little architectural firm Greene & Greene to make some alterations in 1916. The building, at 451-453-455 Ford Place, is still in use and is a contributing property to the Ford Place Historic District, which recently was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.




Throughout the years until his death in 1951 at age 79, he remained one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Pasadena. After his death, his brother Walter took over the company and oversaw a huge boom and expansion.

In 1973 J. Herbert Hall Jewelers was sold to Gordon Jewelers Corp. and was expanded to a 19-store chain in three states. I don't know what happened, but today there are only of couple of J. Herbert Hall Jewelers in Arizona and Texas.

Here's a really bad poem that was included in a Sept. 13, 1910, J. Herbert Hall Jewelers ad celebrating September as Sapphire Month:
September the Sapphire

Those who are born when autumn leaves
Are rustling in September's breeze.
A sapphire on their hand should bind--
It will bring Wisdom to the mind.

We have them in pins, pendants, rings and bracelets as high as $250.00 and as low as $7.50

Many thanks to our talented researchers at Pasadena Central Library, including Dan McLaughlin who helped me with this post. There's never any challenge too great or small, and believe me I've tossed some doozies their way!

Please join me in congratulating our lead research librarian Martha Camacho, who in November was was named one of the American Library Association's emerging leaders of 2010!

7 comments:

Jean Spitzer said...

Congratulations to Roberta and Martha.

Love the look of the photo. I checked on the Texas store. It's in Yorktown, which is about 115 miles from Austin. It's not off of a big highway, either.

Cafe Pasadena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cafe Pasadena said...

Congrats to Roberta. And also to your library researcher, Martha Camacho!

Mister Earl said...

It would be interesting to find out where the cut diamond from that stone is today! Roberta?

Latino Heritage said...

Don't know Mr. Earl, definitely not my area of expertise.

Anonymous said...

I used to shop in this wonderful store!! I found your article when I looked for the store. Halls Jewelery was definitely one of the best stores I've ever shopped in!!! So sorry it is gone forever....

Anonymous said...

How well I remember J. Herbert Hall in Pasadena. Russ Fergoda hired me for part-time sales work when I was a glam college student. His connections enabled me to be an in-store jewelry model for Cartier in NYC. Those were the days.