On Saturday, July 1, 1922, several thousand people gathered for the opening of Long Beach’s newest luxury hotel/apartment house—the Blackstone. Guides conducted the guests through the common area rooms and apartments. There was dancing, food and flowers. But most were there hoping to catch a glimpse of the owner—Countess Kate Nixon d’Aleria—who had been in the news a lot. Her story and how she came to own the Blackstone is a fascinating one.
Kate Nixon d’Aleria is a woman largely ignored in history books, but the story
of her second marriage to a “count” younger than her son was fodder for the
press in the early 1920s. It’s her first
husband you’ll find in Nevada and U.S. Senate histories—George S. Nixon—who died while serving in the Senate on June
6, 1912, of spinal meningitis. George’s
story is one of many we find in the west—someone with enough luck and influence
to make a fortune in mining.
born on a farm near Newcastle, California, on April 22, 1860. But his future
didn’t lie in California; it lay across the state line in Nevada. He most
likely had no idea that accepting the transfer the Carson and Colorado Railroad
offered him in 1881 would transform his life as well as his pocket book. But by
1884 George was tired of being a telegraph operator for the railroad, and
accepted the position of cashier at the First National Bank (later known as the
Washoe County Bank) in Reno. In 1886 he moved to Winnemucca, Nevada, and opened a new
bank branch. It was there he met 18-year-old Kate Imogene Bacon of New
Princeton, Illinois, who was visiting her brother. She was described as a “petite
brunette of charming manners and sweet disposition” by the February 5, 1887 Weekly Nevada State Journal. She and George were married on January 30,
1887. The newspaper went on to state:
“Winnemucca has not only gained a socially attractive lady, but an artist of
more than ordinary ability and a pianist of which we may will be proud.”
Senator George S. Nixon
George became a member of the Nevada
Legislature in 1891, but opportunity called when gold was discovered in Goldfield,
Nevada, in 1902. George went on to form the Goldfield Consolidated Mines
Company with partner George Wingfield.
They also established a bank in Goldfield and reaped a fortune from the
mines. To promote Nevada and its mining interests George was elected to the
United States Senate in 1905, where he continued to serve until his death in
1912. Upon his death Kate inherited
between $2-3 million ($50,400,000-$75,600,000 today*).
|Count Armand D'Aleria.|
LA Times 7/2/1922
1920, newspapers throughout the west reported on a most unusual marriage—wealthy
52-year-old Katherine Imogene Nixon had married 22-year-old-old Count Admond
d'Aleria. It wasn’t unusual for a man to marry a much younger woman, but
a woman to marry a younger man was quite a story. Kate had become one of the
first women in America to become a “cougar”—an older woman seeking a sexual
relationship with a younger man.
explained her reasons why in the Reno
Evening Gazette, May 7, 1920:
I think one reason,
perhaps, that older women become interested in men very much younger than
themselves is that, if we have any spontaneity and optimism left, we become
tired of solemnity and over-seriousness, which we know is often merely a pose
of the middle aged and elderly, and we turn to youth for diversion and relief
from this morbid and unnatural condition...Perhaps one reason that this
marriage, which has seemed so unusual to others, has not appeared at all
bizarre to me is that I never think of a person’s age in summing up his or her
character and qualities. There is nothing I have to say to vindicate myself or
to apologize for what I have done. I make no promises as to what I will do in
the future. I have no advice to offer those who are contemplating the same
|Ad for the Majestic Theater|
Nevada State Journal 3/21/1919
Kate had met d’Aleria, an organist, in San Francisco and asked him to play at the Majestic Theater she owned in Reno. He arrived in February 1919 and from there romance developed. He came from a prominent European family, the press reported. His mother, Marguerite, was said to be a member of a noted Hungarian family and widow of a former Spanish Ambassador to Austria. Newspapers went on to add that the d’Aleria’s were also related to the Spanish royal family, owned over 1200 acres of land in Spain and that d’Aleria had recently inherited a fortune from a Spanish cousin. D’Aleria told the Los Angeles Herald (4/2/1920) “that neither money nor music was the incentive that brought the couple together, but that only love ruled their union.” D’Aleria went on to say that it was only after inheriting this money that he began his ardent courtship with Kate. He didn’t want her to think he was marrying her simply for her money. They were married January 27, 1920, in San Diego, after knowing each other 18 months.
Before his marriage to Kate he was known as "Harold Adrian" (his whole name was Admond Adrian Harold d'Aleria). After his marriage he attached the preferred "Count" to his name, because Kate liked to be seen as a Countess. Countess Kate soon found herself in a life full of adventure, intrigue, and lawsuits.
To start their new life together the couple purchased Los Rios Rancho, a country estate near Monrovia. The Los Angeles Times (2/16/1920) said they planned to create “a wonderful palace of adobe, designed on the classic lines of old Spanish architecture, with a great music room and a rare wrought iron grille gate now on its way from Madrid to Southern California.” The gate was part of d’Aleria’s Spanish estate and over 300 years old. The newlyweds already had dozens of workmen tearing down the old house to make way for the swimming pool and new adobe. They were also building a new garage capable of holding half a dozen cars. However, Kate soon found her new husband’s recently inherited fortune didn’t amount to much, if it even existed at all.
D’Aleria’s life read like a novel. Three months after his marriage to Kate he was sued for $50,000 ($591,000) for a breach of promise by Shirley Holmes, a San Francisco singer. In July 1920 d'Aleria was caught in a San Diego hotel with a young girl. When asked to explain he claimed he was tired of being followed by detectives hired by his wife and took the girl to the hotel to give them something to report. He was sentenced to one hundred days in jail for violation of the city’s morals ordinances. The court gave d’Aleria an alternative fine of $194, ($2,290 today) but he was unable to produce the money and went back to jail. Two days later his mother raised the money and he was released. He returned to Los Angeles, taking a job as an organist at a Southern California theater, while he dealt with the divorce suit brought against him by Kate. But d’Aleria, well versed in wooing women, won back the affections of his rich wife. Even though she claimed he hit her and had affairs, Kate dropped the divorce proceedings. In October the couple celebrated a “second honeymoon” at the Savoy Hotel in Los Angeles. But Kate soon caught on that it was her money, not her that her new husband was interested in. He soon left, not telling her where he was going.
On November 30, 1920, Kate filed a second suit
for divorce. A silver-plated automobile was cited as the cause for their latest
separation. She charged he took advantage of an illness she had to have the car—a
$10,000 ($118,000) car she had given him as a present following their recent
reconciliation—covered with silver plate “because the nickel on it had begun to
peel.” Sending her the bill was the last straw. On December 7, 1920, she had
her lawyers issue a temporary restraining order to prevent him from disposing
of any of her assets. But that was after d’Aleria had taken some of her
antiques, valued at over $5000 ($59,100), and sold them to art dealer, A. A.
Byrens. Kate instigated a lawsuit against Byrens, demanding them back, denying
she ever gave the articles to her husband.
1921 d’Aleria was living in Hollywood in a house Kate owned and claiming to be
receiving death threats. The house had also been robbed, threatening notes left
under his door and he had been warned over the phone that “we’re going to get
you.” Could all of this have just been
d’Aleria’s latest attempt to catch Kate off guard? Could the robbery have been arranged to steal
more of Kate’s belongings and turn them into cash for d’Aleria? But Kate had other things on her mind, on
March 23, 1921, her only child, 33-year-old Bertram Nixon was killed in an
automobile accident at Salinas, California.
|Kate with grandson 1916|
From: Nevada Historical Society**
D’Aleria claimed his mother was extremely bitter over Kate, and wrote letters to Kate to harass her. It was the “money-madness” of his mother which caused the trouble in his marriage. On April 22, 1921, with Kate by his side, he was pronounced sane by the Lunacy Commission. Kate was extremely happy and reconciled with her youthful husband, the Oakland Tribune reported April 25, 1921. “Please don’t say anything wishy-washy about us,” she asked. “I am not young. I know it, but I think I am a sensible woman. I would rather have people think I am rough and unkind to my husband than to have them think that I had become soft and wishy-washy.”
In December 1921 a judgement in another lawsuit was the final straw for Kate. D’Aleria and Kate had been in an automobile accident in which Jennie Shirey had been permanently disabled. The accident occurred April 20, 1919 in San Francisco, before d’Aleria and Kate were married. Though d’Aleria was the driver, and Kate not in the $6000 ($82,200) Locomobile touring car when it hit the Shirey’s Studebaker, Kate was the owner of the automobile. Kate had been advised the judgement would be against her, especially since she had married d’Aleria after the accident. The court ordered the Count and Countess to pay the Shirey’s $12,000 ($159,000).
Anticipating the decision, and other financial shortcomings, Kate sold W. W. Paden, a Los Angeles real estate broker, her entire real estate holdings in Washoe and Nye counties in Nevada for $500,000 ($6,620,000). In exchange Kate received the Blackstone Apartment Hotel. The Reno Evening Gazette (12/10/1921) reported:
The apartment house in exchange by Mrs.
d’Aleria, which forms a large part of the consideration, will be, when
completed, one of the finest buildings of its kind at Long Beach. It is located
near the Hotel Virginia on the ocean front. A lease upon this property running
for a period of fifteen years has been ratified by Mrs. d’Aleria.”
In turn, Kate leased the Blackstone (originally known as
the Sequoia before it was completed), to Howard J. Scott for 10 years at a
rental price of around $600,000 ($7,940,000). Scott also purchased the furnishings for the hotel, estimated at
$125,000 ($1,660,000), according to the March 6, 1922 Daily Telegram. He hired
Mrs. William Bouldin, who at one time was in charge of the Chevy-Chase Country
Club at Washington, D. C., to manage the building.
Ad from the Daily Telegram 9/14/1922
Located at 330 W. Ocean, work on the $600,000 ($7,940,000) Blackstone began June 10, 1921. It was described as a “Class A-1” building—steel, concrete, brick and tile being the only building materials used. Wood was used only for framing and decoration. Plans for the building were drawn up by Edward Mayberry and B. L. Jones who also built the University Club in Los Angeles. The Southern California branch of the Foundation Construction Company of New York, were contractors.
What did this new property Kate now owned look like inside?
The Blackstone had 70 rooms on the second and third
floors and 75 apartments on the other floors. Rooms and apartments were
finished either in mahogany or ivory. On
the second floor there was a ballroom (dancing was held there every Saturday
afternoon and evening), billiard and card rooms. Each of the 8 floors had a sun
parlor. Furnishings included floor lamps and table shades and over-stuffed
furniture. In the basement there was a garage for 75 automobiles,
shower and dressing rooms for the use of guests returning from the beach. It
was quite a luxury to be able to step from one’s car, catch an elevator and go
directly to one’s apartment or hotel room. Single apartments rented from
$85 to $150 ($1200-$2,120) per month; double apartments $165-$225
($2330-$3,180) per month; a room started at $2.00 ($28.30) a day. It
opened for business on July 1, 1922.
The opening of
the Blackstone signaled a new chapter in Kate’s life. The same day the Blackstone opened Kate sued d’Aleria
for divorce. She wouldn’t back out this time.
By 1925 Kate’s finances were not in the best of shape,
the Reno Evening Gazette reported
(11/19/1925). Her first husband’s siblings—brother Rudy Nixon and sisters
Mattie Threlkel and Nancy Donalson—who were to receive $200 ($2,700) monthly
from George Nixon’s estate, sued Kate to
keep the remaining property intact. They alleged that the Nixon trust was so
heavily mortgaged and in such a chaotic condition that it would be lost
entirely unless relief was granted by the court. All that was left in the
estate were orange groves in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Kate had
sold the Blackstone a few years earlier.
By the time the 1930 U.S. Census was taken Kate had given
up all pretense of being a Countess, simply stating she was a widow, Kate
Nixon, living in Santa Monica. She had
nine years of life remaining. She died in
October 1939 in California at the age of 71.
She was survived by her 23-year-old grandson George Stuart Nixon II
What of the youthful d’Aleria? On June 4, 1923, he married again. Singer/actress
Ruth Dennis entered d’Aleria’s life when he was employed as an organist at a
St. Louis motion picture theatre. He was now using the name Count Armand Aleria
de Barrio, or Stuart Barrie for short. By September 10, 1923, they had separated. The
new Mrs. d’Aleria charged she was induced through fraud to marry him. He had
told her he was a member of European nobility and had an income of $300 ($4,170)
per week. She said d’Aleria was not and
never was a count, nor of nobility. He was heavily in debt and unable to meet
the most common expenses necessary to life. (LA Times 10/24/1923) From here d’Aleria fades from the news.
Blackstone continues on as a Long Beach landmark. Granted landmark status in
September 1989, it remains one of Long Beach’s treasures, with a fascinating
history. One story I have heard, but have
been unable to verify, was that gangster Al Capone stayed at the Blackstone upon
his parole from Terminal Island Federal Prison on November 16, 1939. He allegedly was only there for a night before
the Feds moved him east. Capone’s release was all “hush hush” at the time, so
if he had stayed at the Blackstone it wouldn’t have been mentioned. But if anyone knows let me and your fellow
blog readers know...please.
* Based on the inflation value of money in 2015 from the Purchasing
Power Calculator of website Measuring Worth.