Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Silsby Morse Spalding (1886-1949)

Portrait courtesy of Rootsweb and

    Notable for being the first man to serve as Mayor of Beverly Hills, California, the name of Silsby Morse Spalding is also one of the stranger names one will stumble across while perusing a list of mayors of this famed California city. A native of Minnesota, Spalding would permanently relocate to California in the early 20th century and in the succeeding years accumulated a fortune, being an oil company executive, rancher, sporting goods magnate and a developer of the Beverly Hills Speedway.
   The story of this once prominent Beverly Hills figure begins with his birth on May 29, 1886 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, being the son of Salathiel Martin (1839-1906) and Sarah Eglatine Spalding. Silsby Spalding would attend the "common schools" in the city of his birth and later moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he would continue his schooling. He'd go on to study at both the Pomona College at Claremont and Stanford University, and in 1908 entered into the employ of the San Francisco based E.H. Rollins and Sons, "dealers in Municipal and Corporation bonds." He would serve as a manager for that company in Los Angeles and in 1911 married to Caroline Canfield (1890-1970), the daughter of wealthy California industrialist and oilman Charles Canfield (1848-1913). The couple would later have one daughter, Deborah C. Spalding Palissero (1921-2011).
    A veteran of WWI, Spalding would begin his military service at a "Military Training Camp for businessmen" in Monterey, a photograph of which appeared in the Pan American Record published in September 1916 (shown below.) Spalding's service during the First World War saw him serve amongst the ranks of the 362nd Infantry, being the Captain of "Company A."

                                                       Silsby M. Spalding during his military service, ca. 1916.

   Following his military service, Spalding returned to California and resumed his activities as a stockbroker. He would take office as a Beverly Hills city trustee in 1919 and also began to branch out into other areas of opportunity, including aviation and oil. Spalding was an early president of the Southern California Aero Club (chartered in 1925) and around this same time entered into the petroleum industry, later becoming an executive with both the Mexican Petroleum Corp. and the Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company.  The San Bernardino County Courier records Spalding as being the "first developer of tideland oil in the region north of Goleta [California]" and further notes that he had been an associate of Edward Doheny, another California oil millionaire whose name would be linked to the infamous Teapot Dome scandal in the mid-1920s.
    After several years of service as a Beverly Hills trustee, Silsby M. Spalding was elected as the first Mayor of Beverly Hills in 1926. During his term (which extended until 1928) Spalding made headlines across the country when he appointed famed actor and humorist Will Rogers (a longtime Beverly Hills resident) as the "honorary mayor" of the city. In 1926 Spalding purchased the famed Tecolote Ranch property in Santa Barbara and in the succeeding years built it into "one of the most highly developed ranch properties in the country",  having a cash crop of "walnuts and citrus" as well as livestock.
   Silsby Spalding later resided at 1019 Laurel Way in Beverly Hills and died at his home on May 5, 1949, shortly before his 63rd birthday. His wife Caroline survived him by over twenty years, dying in April 1970. Both were interred at the Santa Barbara Cemetery in Santa Barbara, California. Their daughter Deborah was also interred here following her death in March 2011 at age 89.

Silsby M. Spalding during his later years.

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