Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Anaheim’s White House Restaurant - Untold History Uncovered

Gervais House- 1912 (APL Archives)
Sitting on Anaheim Boulevard near Vermont Avenue is the Anaheim White House. This award winning restaurant started in one of Anaheim’s early historic homes in 1981, as a last minute decision by the Stovall family. Originally, Jim and Barbara Stovall had acquired the historic property with the intention of tearing down the building and constructing condominiums in its place. It was said that on the evening before the demolition, Mrs. Stovall had a change of heart and decided to save the home and have it turned into a restaurant. It opened for the first time on December 31, 1981. By 1987, Chef Bruno Serato had purchased the restaurant and turned the White House into an exclusive and elegant dining establishment that continues to this today.

Although many have dined here over the years, including celebrities and even former Presidents, not much is known about the home’s early history, until now.  Please take a step back in time with me to see where this stately manor had its start and the first families who called this house, “home.”

Originally built in 1909, the first family to live there was original owners, the Gervais family. Dosithe Gervais was born in 1872, in Illinois, but came from French-Canadian immigrant parents. He and his wife, Alberta married in February of 1894. They brought their three daughters up in the home, Gladys, Violet and Dorothy. Dosithe Gervais was a farmer, and later went on to raising poultry.

Interestingly, I found that the Gervais daughters were prolific writers, often times winning writing contests that were published in the Los Angeles Herald. All three were avid writers despite their young age, and it appears as though the older two, Gladys and Violet were regularly published in a children’s section of the newspaper, known as the Junior Herald.  By reading their work, I was able to get a sense of their personalities, which were quite lovely. Tales of adventure and excitement, humorous limerick writing and short stories were common as well as letter writing contests. One such contest seemed to stand out during my research. Ironically, this published work by Gladys Gervais seems to go along well with the overall theme that this home would later adopt.

Los Angeles Herald, 2/6/1910
The February 6, 1910, issue of the Los Angeles Herald mentions young Gladys Gervais competing in a writing contest for a popular column at the paper known as “Letters to Aunt Laurie,” noting her as an “honorable mention,” and publishing her short blurb on the subject of former President Abraham Lincoln.

Gladys’ letter was under the subheading, “Walked Many Miles to Correct Mistake”:
“Dear Aunt Laurie,
When Mr. Lincoln was clerking in a country store, a woman who lived four miles away and who came to the store once a week for supplies, entered one day and gave an order. Mr. Lincoln gave her the goods and received the pay.
When the woman had been gone about an hour Mr. Lincoln discovered he had not given her enough coffee. She ought to have had four ounces more.  So he wrapped up four ounces of coffee and tramped four miles through the woods.
The reason I like this story so well is because it shows the honesty of Mr. Lincoln, and verifies the title, “Honest Abe.”—Gladys Gervais, Anaheim School, Grade 8, Age 14.

Although short, this peek into the young mind of Gladys Gervais shows the respect and admiration of our forefathers that she was taught by her parents.  The Gervais daughters were mentioned many times in archived newspapers for being listed on the honor roll at the Anaheim School. By the time their children had grown up and moved away, Dosithe and Alberta Gervais moved on as well in 1916.  I found that they moved around California over the years, eventually living in Atascadero. Their final resting place can be found at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, where both Mr. & Mrs. Gervais were laid to rest.

By 1916, the home was sold to George Waterman, who lived for a short time on the property. Soon the Waterman’s sold the home to a young doctor, who had just started his career in Anaheim a few years earlier.  Dr. John Truxaw and his family were the next residents of this beautiful home.

Dr. John Truxaw was born on August 4, 1883, in Gage County, Nebraska. His mother was from Iowa, while his father was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia who came to the U.S. to live the “American Dream.” It was in 1912, while finishing up medical school at the University of California that John Truxaw met Castilla Louise Wallberg, who was going to nursing school. By August 27, 1913, the couple were wed.  Dr. Truxaw moved to Anaheim in 1912, to start his medical practice which was located at 107 E. Center Street. 
Dr. John Truxaw (APL Archives)

Besides being the beloved Anaheim physician who saw to at least 3,500 births during his career, he and his wife also raised eight children.  Their names were John, Jr., Mary, Robert, Louise, Joe, Joan, Jean and Carol.  Dr. Truxaw's wife mentioned in her memoirs that her Buick had stalled out one day right in front of the home on Los Angeles Street. She came in to use the phone to call for a tow when she instantly became interested in the home. Every house she had been looking to buy was not to her standards and she really wanted that one. Unfortunately the house wasn't for sale, yet! After some serious begging to her agent, one day she heard news that the home was on the market. As soon as it became available the Truxaw's scooped it up and became the next owners. 

Apparently the former owners were taking too long to move out, and it was causing Louise to become very impatient, so she wrote them and basically stated that she would be living in the house with them if they didn't get out soon, because she was moving in. When moving day arrived she said they were literally moving things in the back door, as the old owners were moving out through the front door.  Louise's determination proved to be the best decision, as she spent many years in a lovely home that she adored.
From Louise Truxaw's Memoirs

At home, Dr. Truxaw had a small orange grove that surrounded the property. He also loved animals, including pheasants, ducks, chickens and turkeys, along with the family dog, a three-legged St. Bernard named Pancho. According to the family story, at one time the dog had been hit by a car and Dr. Truxaw refused to have the dog put to sleep. He made sure the veterinarian cared for him until he was well enough to be brought back to their family, where he was loved and managed to live just fine.  In a genealogical biography online, a nephew of the Truxaw’s, Micheal Winney wrote his memories while living with his aunt and uncle in the 1950’s. He mentioned that Mrs. Truxaw was an avid genealogist and enjoyed traveling to Iowa and Illinois to do family research. She was also very artistic, and her studio was upstairs across the hall from her bedroom. 

Dr. Truxaw’s career spanned four decades, as he watched the children he delivered grow up to have children of their own, and grandchildren of their own.  After a long fight with cancer, Dr. Truxaw succumbed to his illness and passed away on October 23, 1952. His wife remained in the home until her death in 1969. 

                Since then, the home has seen several other owners come and go, until finally Chef Bruno Serato purchased the property and brought it back to life again. Although this home is now a restaurant, you can see the love and care that has been put into it. I am sure if Dosithe Gervais or Dr. Truxaw were here today, they would see what a marvel this home has continued to be, now allowing thousands of people per year to feel the inviting atmosphere that the original families must have felt daily. That same feeling when you walk through those doors has withstood over 106 years, evidently showing that it will forever remain their home.----

(Copyright 2015, J'aime Rubio. All Rights Reserved)

Thank you Lisa Shaughnessey for the snippet of  Louise's memoir

A copy of this story will be provided to the Anaheim Historical Society for preservation purposes as well as a copy going to the Anaheim White House Restaurant for their own historical files.--- 

photo by Ed Wiesmuller - Copyright 2015