Judge Richard Garvey, Jr.

By Lewis Chilton

LAAS members know little about the man for whom Garvey Ranch Park and its observatory are named. Here’s a personal but brief vignette of him, as told by our own Thomas R. Cave, Jr. (1923-2003) in his unfinished autobiography. The following excerpt was edited by Lew Chilton, your LAAS History Detective.

On a Saturday morning in the late spring of 1940, a few weeks before the end of my junior year at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, I took the Pacific Electric Red Car to Los Angeles to see Mr. Ray Drew about a summer job. His shop was located on West 7th Street, near Figueroa Street and Wilshire Boulevard. He had helped me five or six years earlier with the final figuring of my 6-inch mirror. He was a tall, likeable, middle-aged man with a lame foot and a blinded right eye and had been an artist in a former life.

image003I asked Mr. Drew if I could work for him as soon as school was out for the summer.  He thought for a moment, then said that since he had a backlog of mirrors to finish for customers, he could use me a couple of days a week.

He was an excellent teacher, and under his guidance I ground and polished many mirrors that summer, including my own 10-inch.  Its final focal length was 112 1/2 inches.  Mr Drew said that its figure was as good or even a little better than my 1935 6-inch mirror.


Judge Richard Garvey, Jr. was a frequent visitor to Mr. Drew’s shop. Although his judge title may have only been an honorific, he had nevertheless been a practicing Los Angeles attorney for many years. Born in Santa Monica, he was the son of Irish immigrant and early Southern California pioneer Richard Garvey, Sr., who left large tracts of San Gabriel Valley land to his son that were acquired during the Civil War by the elder Garvey and were once part of Rancho Potrero Grande de Felipe Lugo.

Judge Garvey was a truly ardent amateur astronomer. After seeing me at the shop a few times, he seemed to take a liking to me. He was in his mid-50s and had been retired for some years. He was a very dapper dresser, wore spats on his shoes and drove a shiny new Cadillac. I called him Mr. Esquire.image006

One day, soon after I finished my 10-inch mirror, Judge Garvey asked if I would like to see some of his telescopes.  Mr. Drew encouraged me to go and said, "Go on, we're not busy."  Judge Garvey took me to his huge home at 2302 W. 9th Street, only a few miles from Drew's shop.  He showed me his slide-off roof observatory and twin 12 1/2 inch reflecting telescopes on a shared mount.  One instrument was a Cassegrain and the other was an f/6 Newtonian.  The optics and mechanicals, including the clock drive, setting circles and electric slow motions were by the firm J.W. Fecker of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

A lifelong bachelor, Judge Garvey employed two full-time servants. One was a gardener and handyman, the other a woman in her fifties who was his housekeeper and cook. They both lived on the premises in apartments over a large garage.

The judge had a very complete workshop equipped with the most expensive woodworking and machine shop tools. In another portion of the garage was a storeroom for smaller telescopes. These included a Carl Zeiss Jena 5-inch binocular telescope and two smaller Zeiss telescopes.

Then he rolled out a 4¼-inch Zeiss refractor on a pyramid stand into his spacious backyard, and, using a Herschel wedge and filter, we observed the sun with powers from 50X to 150X. I never had a better view of the sun than that afternoon when we saw very fine sunspot detail.

At 4 p.m. we had tea and some fine bake goods. He asked what eyepieces I had and said that he had so many Zeiss orthoscopic oculars and duplicates that I could choose a couple for myself as gifts. I decided on a 5mm Zeiss monocentric and a 7mm orthoscopic, which on my 10-inch, when it was finished, would provide magnifications of 570X and 405X. These eyepieces proved far superior to my four Ramsdens and were a tremendous improvement on the Moon and planets.

Realizing that it was getting late and that I had to take the Pacific Electric back to Long Beach, he hurriedly drove me to the Red Line station. On the way there, he told me about a small, elite astronomy club that he had organized called the Garvey Associates. Among its ten or twelve members was Mr. Lyle Abbott, the science editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Express. I was invited to one of their monthly meetings the following week at his home, the same day I was scheduled to work for Mr. Drew.

The judge said he would pick me up after work at 5 p.m. and I’d be his guest for dinner at his favorite Beverly Hills restaurant, and afterwards we would go to the meeting. But first, he said, I would have to get my parents’ permission. They agreed that I could go.

By the time Judge Garvey picked me up, I had changed into my dress clothes. Off we went to Romanoff’s, probably the most expensive restaurant in all of Los Angeles. He suggested Escalopes of Cream Veal Parisian. This was the first time I had eaten haute cuisine.

Afterwards, we went to Mr. Abbott’s home and spent a great deal of time observing with his new 6-inch f/12 reflector, which was equipped with all the accessories. He told me about his years after college when he worked as a junior staff member at Lowell Observatory.

This concludes Tom Cave’s recollection of Judge Garvey who, eight years later, was killed in a traffic accident on a Mexican highway near Tijuana and never got to occupy his nearly completed ranch house-observatory. Leaving no heirs, the building and 5,000 acres comprising Garvey Ranch were sold to the Metropolitan Water District. In 1952, the MWD donated 6½ acres of it and the ranch house to the city of Monterey Park for a park and recreation center. The city leased an additional 8⅓-acres for a picnic area. And thus ends one chapter of the Garvey Ranch story and the beginning of another. To be continued....

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