Saturday, June 05, 2010

"The mounts who lived in a manor"

From the TV glory days of "Mr. Ed," we know that horses have a lot to say if given a chance — not a surprise considering they were hard-working, come-rain-or-shine mass transit for millenniums before being run out of Dodge by Henry Ford. And don't forget the insults — horse glue, horse meat, horse trading, horse play and horse you-know-what. The sardonic Ed once remarked to Wilbur, "Some way to treat your friends who helped conquer the West."

Ed's descendents revere one Angeleno for his unfailing devotion to the hoof. Capt. William Sanford Banning was the oldest son of Phineas Banning, the Yankee booster for a Los Angeles harbor at Wilmington. Historian Tom Sitton recounts in his forthcoming history of the family that Phineas built a business running carriages and freight carts to and from the harbor. After his death in 1885, William controlled the family interests and continued to promote horse travel even as cars took over the road.

Middle-class horses bunked in barns, but Banning mounts lived in a manor. Around 1920 the captain picked up 15 acres in Compton and built Halfway House, a modest bungalow for stopping on the trip from downtown L.A. to Wilmington. His horses, however, had a veritable Monticello, a shingle-roofed, vine-covered stable with column and pediment windows. The Banning team, family to an owner who never married, looked out over a sunny garden.

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