Albert Burrage was born in Massachusetts in 1859 to George and Aurelia Burrage, decedents of old New England families. When Albert was three years old, his father’s chair-making business was destroyed by fire and the family moved west. Eventually his father was befriended by and became partners with a wealthy landowner who had the good idea of planting vineyards on thousands of acres of what is now Napa Valley.
Burrage’s early education was in California; he graduated from Harvard University in 1883, was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1884, and began his career as a lawyer. He married Alice Hathaway Haskell in 1885; together they had four children.
Burrage began to amass enormous wealth in the 1890’s. Working on behalf of Brookline Gas Company, he discovered a legal loophole granting rights to extend gas lines into the city of Boston, effectively ending a gas monopoly there. Brookline Gas was acquired by Standard Oil, and Burrage was paid $800,000 fee as counsel—said at the time to be the largest fee paid “in the history of the world.” By the end of the century, Burrage had major positions in both Standard Oil and Amalgamated Copper and was regarded as one of the preeminent men of the era.
By 1904, Burrage owned a 220-foot, steam-powered yacht and three residences: a magnificent mansion on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston—constructed with Italian marble, rare mahogany, stained glass and boasting hundreds of gargoyles, cherubs, dragons, griffins, lions and human faces carved into the exterior— as well as an Italian villa at Cohasset and the Redlands mansion, known to the family as the “cottage.”
Burrage also established a residential hospital on Bumpkin Island in Massachusetts for children with orthopedic illnesses, where treatment emphasized fresh air, fresh milk and healthy living. He was an avid horticulturist; by 1922 he had assembled the largest collection of tropical orchids in the world—over 1200 plants.
The Burrage wealth quickly disappeared after his death in 1931. His estate, thought to be worth $6M, was really $1.8M in the red. Alice Burrage used $1.8M of her own money to settle the debts. The Burrage sons were in debt to their mother for hundreds of thousands of dollars and were listed as liabilities in her probate record of 1947.
Albert Burrage commissioned the 16,000 square-foot mansion to be built on a 20-acre knoll above Redlands in 1901. From that year until 1907, the Burrage family and friends visited the “cottage” for about six weeks each year as a holiday escape from Boston winter weather. The Burrage’s returned again in 1916, hosting the social elite to an elaborate party featuring croquet and polo games, horse racing, and dancing in the evenings on a wooden floor rolled out to cover the swimming pool. After that, the family visited infrequently and the mansion was sold in 1924.
Los Angeles attorney Edgar Pratt, a local hotel owner in Redlands, purchased the property in 1924 and sold it back to Alice and Albert Burrage five days later.
In 1926, the Burrage’s sold to the Monte Vista Syndicate, who planned to merge grounds with adjoining property and build a huge, high-end resort and health spa. The resort was never built and the mansion was vacant for several years. Syndicate member Arthur Gregory purchased the property and allowed Catholic nuns to serve as caretakers and establish a convent there in 1934.
Gregory sold the mansion for $15,000 in 1940 to Catholic Archbishop John F. Knoll of Fort Wayne, IN. After some renovation was completed, the Knoll deeded the mansion to the Sisters of the Order of Missionary Catechists of Our Blessed Lady of Victory. The nuns named it “Queen of the Missions” and used it as a convent for another 34 years.
The first subdivision took place in 1954, with the western portion of the property divided into eight parcels fronting Crown Street. Later, an additional three lots fronting Crescent Avenue were also subdivided and sold.
The mansion was purchased for $174,000 in 1974 by Dr. Cyril D. Blaine, an assistant professor of medicine at Loma Linda University. Dr. Blaine leased it out for several years; tenants Jim and Maribeth Lotito proposed operating a commercial bed-and-breakfast business at the mansion, but were unable to gain community support or city permits.
In 1987, Dr. Blaine sold the property to James and Sharon Fishbach, who completed extensive restoration used the estate as their private residence.
Dr. Russel Seheult purchased the mansion in 1996 as a residence for his family. In 2003, he proposed subdivision of eastern and northern portions of the property, as well as demolition of the historic carriage house and caretaker’s cottage. Dr. Seheult’s plans also included commercial use of the mansion for weddings, recitals and receptions. He too was unsuccessful in obtaining required approvals.
The Rock Church, under the leadership of Rev. James Cobrave, acquired the mansion in 2004. Attempts at commercial use and subdivision again failed.