Featured Artwork: Westlake Park: Los Angeles, CA

RSW's Diary Comments

This painting pre-dates Woodward's professional career and therefore not a part of his paintings diary.

Additional Notes

An image of the back of the painting
An image of the back of the painting

This piece recently (July 2018) appeared for sale on eBay. Attached to the back with masking tape is what appears to be in Woodward's handwriting the following:

Robert Strong Woodward
looking east

The issue here is that a number of things do not line up: (1) the paper of the back looks new and is a different shade the what is written on; however, (2) the tape attaching the handwritten label to the back appears much newer than the tape of the new backing paper of the frame suggesting the handwritten label could have nothing to do with the painting itself or Woodward for that matter. It is the inconsistency that raises suspicions.

Otherwise, for all intent-and-purposes, this does appear to be his work. For one thing, (1) he was in Los Angeles at the noted time, in fact; 1910 was the year he left LA to go to the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. For another, (2) Westlake Park did exist in that time period (est. 1898) and is today called MacArthur Park. What's more, (3) we have located numerous pictures of the gazebos in the park, and they match the gazebo in the painting.

Close up of mother and son
Close up of mother and son

In fact, Westlake Park is the closest park to one of the addresses we have for the Woodwards in LA, besides being a matter of just a couple blocks from the Good Samaritan Hospital. What's more is the subject matter of the painting itself, a woman holding the hand of her son while he pulls on her grip to touch the surface of the lake's water. It feels like intentional subtext on the part of the artist we find very interesting. Since Woodward was about to board a train to Boston, leaving his parents behind, we wonder if this was a parting gift for his mother. The subject of the painting is a mother's protection of her son from him from falling into the dangerous water, and the son determined to reach out into that danger. It's a theory; however, it also raises other questions. If this was a gift to his mother, how is it NOT still in the family? How could it have been left behind and why? Could it be, instead, a gift to a doctor or his nurse? There are simply too many unanswered questions and inconsistencies to say for certain this is Woodward's work, still; its possibility is very compelling. If it is, it is at best a gift common of Woodward throughout his life. His gifts were approximately the same size as this painting and often well done but lacking the detail RSW was known for.

A Vintage Postcard of the gazebos on the North Shore
A Vintage Postcard of the gazebos on the North
Shore. An arrow is pointing to the one we believe
is portrayed in the painting

By using Google maps as well as the many pictures we collected, we have even identified the exact gazebo in the painting to be the one seen in the image of the vintage postcard to the left on the North Shore of the park. It was not easy to locate because in 1934 the City of Los Angeles built Wilshire Boulevard right through the park and over the entire north shore of the lake leaving just a small portion of the northern lake still available. However, you see that antenna in the right of the postcard? That made all the difference because there is an antenna in the exact same spot to this day on the eastern end of the park, near the Levitt Concert Shell and park facilities. Below: A couple more pictures we collected of the park we hope will give some orientation as to Woodward's possible location.

Another vintage postcard prior to 1934
Another vintage postcard prior to 1934 showing
a gazebo with a building behind it in the distance we have
identified this building to be the "Ansonia" noted in the
arial photo to the left. It is the second, distant gazebo
found in the other vintage postcard (above right).
An arial image taken sometime after Wilshire Bvld
An arial image taken sometime after Wilshire Bvld
was made cutting the lake in two. In the graphics we
note the significant landmarks and the east direction.

BONUS Material regarding Woodward in Los Angeles

Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 4, 1906
Los Angeles Herald, Sept. 4, 1906

The Woodwards moved to Los Angeles from Peoria after Orion's completion of his Highlands (historic Peoria neighborhood) project in 1904. It was also the year RSW received his high school diploma from the Bradley Polytechnic Institute (now Bradley University). However, RSW begged to stay behind in Peoria receiving a scholarship to take college-preparatory classes at Bradley. His parents permitted him to stay with close friends, the Bourlands, and take those classes. As part of the scholarship, RSW was required to be a teaching assistant in Literature. We believe there are a number of reasons why RSW would insist on staying behind: (1) he had made a lot of good friends in Peoria, but it was also the longest tenure of any city the Woodwards had lived the previous 10 or so years. He liked the stability, the roots. (2) We believe RSW was never comfortable with his education having changed schools, SO many times. He once told a reporter during an interview, his education was, "catch as catch can." We believe he simply wanted to bolster his skill some more. (3) Along with that, RSW's father Orion was steadfast on his son to follow in his footsteps in civil engineering and attend Stanford University. However, we know from letters to friends; RSW had no intention of anything other than going to the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts (BMSFA). He would mention his father's wishes but always stressed his desire to go to BMSFA. His staying in Peoria seem to be a means of putting his father off a little longer.

RSW's parents Orion and Mary in August 1906
RSW's parents Orion and Mary in August
1906 in front of the Hotel Balboa, Balboa Beach,
CA just a matter of weeks or days before the
accident that would leave RSW paralysed.

RWS would eventually join his parents in Los Angeles in the early summer, late spring of 1906. He was joined by friends Fred Bourland and Victor West, who all went to work at his father's company, Briggs Realty Company, where Orion was a Vice President. It is believed the reason was to earn extra money for school. It appears that RSW was going to take a "gap-year" and only work. We have no record of RSW ever having applied for admission to Stanford. It is also worth noting that 1906 was the year of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, leveling San Francisco and its surrounding area, including the Stanford campus. He was only in Los Angeles a few months before his tragic accident occurred on Monday, Labor Day, September 3, 1906 after a weekend of camping with his friends. The picture to the right of his parents, Orion and Mary, dated "August 1906" appears to be around the time of the newly opened Balboa Paviliion on Balboa Beach (near Newport and Long Beach, CA) was taken shortly before the accident.

Mary Strong Woodward and a Friend
MSW and a Friend
We do not know who the friend
maybe, however, we wonder if
it is RSW's nurse at the time.
Mary Strong Woodward in a park
Mary Strong Woodward
The date of this picture is unknown,
however, we think it maybe Westlake
Park from near the time of painting.

RSW would spend at least his first week in the Good Samaritan Hospital in critical condition, though it was believed he would survive two days after the accident. Doctors were pretty certain there would be paralysis but to what extent was unknown at that time. Three days after the accident, the Los Angeles Times reported he was improving, however, the bullet remained lodged to the spin. Doctors were waiting for him to stabilize more before attempting to get the bullet. We do not know how many surgeries he endured at the time. On November 3, 1906, the LA Times followed up that Woodward was "comparatively strong and alert" calling it a "remarkable recovery" and the Los Angeles Herald reported he would be going home soon. RSW would spend the next four years in Los Angeles getting acclimated to his new circumstances; we imagine learning how to function from a wheelchair, etc.

RSW's parents Orion and Mary in August 1906
Lawrence Lunt as a student

We do know that he continued to create art making his "self-published" booklet The Love Leaf for close friend Helen Ives Shermerhorn in Schenectady, NY, just 8 months after being released from the hospital. In his letters to Helen after his accident, his continued to express his desire to go to BMSFA despite his father's wishes he attend Stanford. Sometime prior to 1910, his friends from Peoria, led by close friend, Joseph Cowell, conspired to help Woodward and started a fundraising campaign to put him on a train and send him to Boston. Cowell's cousin Millie Everett and her cousin Lawerence Lunt who would later become a life-long friend, played a major role in the plot. Lunt, a medical student at Harvard and Cowell, already a student at BMSFA would be his support group in Boston. It is worth noting that the only known account of RSW's accident is told by Lunt after his death and can be read on our Scrapbook page devote to him.

Woodward boarded a train from LA to Boston sometime before the start of the fall semester in 1910. He would room with Joseph Cowell, who would act as his attendent, helping him get about in the city. Unfortunately, the arrangement was too difficult for both the young men. It lasted only one school session and RSW would leave Boston sometime in Dec. 1910 or Jan. 1911 and head to join family he had in Buckland, MA.

A capture of Google Maps showing the proximity of the location of RSW's accident
A capture of Google Maps showing the proximity of (1) the location of RSW's accident to that of (2) the Good Samarintan Hospital he was taken to and (3) Westlake Park. It is what is considered "downtown" Los Angeles. The corners of Olive and 2nd Streets is today adjacent to the Disney Concert Hall.