“Mr. Marshall Builds a House”—thus begins the eighth chapter of Ave Maria Bortz ’61’s book: Mayfield: The Early Years, 1931-1950. Mayfield’s Strub Hall was originally named Marshallia, a nod to its owner, E.J. Marshall, who commissioned the lavish home and expansive 7.5-acre grounds in 1914. Marshall amassed his vast wealth in real estate, oil investments, banking, and cattle. The 30-room mansion was completed in 1919, when newspapers heralded it as one of the most magnificent houses in the West.
Almost exactly 100 years later, 11 teenage girls—who had all spent the morning in Mr. Marshall’s former residence—nervously file in and find their seats for the first meeting of the Mayfield History Club. President Drew Valentino ’22 calls the meeting to order and introduces their advisor, Angela Howell ’76, Associate Head of School for Strategic Initiatives.
In the early 20th century, this ultra-wealthy enclave, known as Millionaires’ Row, was inhabited by men that history would remember—some of Marshall’s closest neighbors were The Busches (as in Anheuser-Busch) and the Wrigleys (yes, the chewing gum). In the mid 1920s, John Eagle bought Marshall’s home after building an empire on silk mills. His extensive taxidermy collection—including a huge hippo head with its mouth agape—took pride of place on the walls, and these trophies made it clear to visitors that he was more than a casual big game hunter. Eagle went on to bequeath the estate to Caltech in the 1940s, though it was only occasionally used in the three years before its eventual sale to the Strubs.
This early history causes some cognitive dissonance for Mayfield History Club members, who only know the house as a hub of female excellence, creativity, and leadership for over 60 years. Drew says that she wants to explore “the women of the house” who predated the school, and “enlighten people” on their journeys, “and maybe try and focus on relating that to now and how the times have changed.” She hopes to uncover “herstory” inside the history of this impressive building.
So who was Sallie Marshall—more than just wife to E.J. or mother to Marcus? What priceless pieces of art did she contribute to the property? What rooms show her unique imprint? Who was Elizabeth Keyes Eagle—who never had children—but eventually moved her sister’s daughters into the house? It was Keyes Eagle who would first hear the laughter of teenage girls resounding through the hallways, long before the school was even conceptualized. Precious little information remains about these women on record. And although their husbands are immortalized in biographies—men who entertained Einstein or had their photos taken with Teddy Roosevelt—these women’s lives ended up as footnotes. “Herstory” is almost always harder to find.
Perhaps some of the same questions motivated alumna Ave Maria Bortz ‘61, a Mayfield teacher for over 30 years, when she took an academic sabbatical to embark on writing her book on Mayfield. Through Bortz’s lens, we come to know a little more about the women who shaped the building’s legacy, especially after the nuns take ownership of the property. The last person to purchase the estate was Dr. Charles Strub, the founder of the Santa Anita Racetrack, though his family never used it as a private residence. His daughter, Sr. Elizabeth Strub ’47, SHCJ, had joined the Holy Child Sisters, and he purchased the estate as a gift to the Society. It became a home to the nuns, and a place of nourishment and enrichment for students. The high school opened in 1950, which was when 500 Bellefontaine Street became Mayfield.
The members of the Mayfield History Club spent a few minutes reflecting on their first impressions of Strub Hall: “Shocking.” “Majestic.” “Surprising.” “Historical.” “I was in awe.” Drew said it was surreal to be surrounded by flocks of students on their way to classes, simply going on with their day, while she felt a barely contained sense of “amazement that this is an actual school.” She explains with a laugh, that it was so beautiful that she almost imagined that “angels might sing.”
Despite the impressions of grandeur the students conveyed, it is impossible not to notice how often the word “home” appears in the exact same conversation. A jumble of voices concur, saying, “I definitely felt almost at home in the living room. Straight away,” “I like how homey the classrooms are and there's fireplaces...I don't really feel like I'm at school,” and, “I felt it was like my own house.” This remains one of Mayfield’s most endearing charms. It was built as a house, and it’s hard not to think of it like that. Perhaps this is why so many students and graduates never feel that Mayfield was just their school, but also their forever home.
The Mayfield History Club, which was founded by Drew’s sister Avery ’19, and Avery’s friend, Brook Acosta ’19, has always involved more official duties than many other student clubs. Members are factoid collectors and trained docents willing to share the Mayfield architectural legacy, especially to prospective parents. But now Drew is discovering what this club means to her.
She already has a parallel project in the works—one that goes beyond the architectural elements of Strub Hall and embraces the stories of the people who lived inside the home. As they participate in this year's fascinating centennial celebration events, Drew and her fellow student-historians plan to research the generations of women, from the religious to the secular, who have contributed to the complex story of Mayfield.
Club advisor Ms. Howell described an unexpected boon of Mrs. Bortz’s book, which was initially published in 2000. It became a topic of interest for the descendents of the Eagles, Marshalls, and Strubs, who have since reached out to share their intimate family stories with her. Although the personal histories are difficult to substantiate or verify, they do give unique glimpses of the women who once occupied this space, in ways that had never been accessible before.
On Sunday, Oct. 6, Mrs. Bortz will present a lecture in Pike Auditorium, exploring the rich material from her book. The afternoon will bridge generations of Mayfield women, both established and budding historians, and remind us of this beloved building’s role in shaping truly formidable women. After the presentation, Mayfield History Club members will conduct tours of Strub Hall. For many of these students, it will be their first time telling the stories of this century-old house. But their generation will not be relegated to the footnotes—they are making history themselves.
Want a sneak peek of the Mayfield History Club’s tours? A small number of girls will be doing mini tours on Back to School Night on Thursday, Sept. 19. Don’t miss out!
And please RSVP for Ave Maria Bortz’s Strub Hall Tea & Tour event on Sunday, Oct. 6. To learn about other events celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Strub Hall, please visit www.mayfieldsenior.org/strub100.