Elizabeth Hatsfeldt, the youngest of three children (one son and two daughters) was born on December 17, 1827 at Mainz, Germany. Her parents later moved to the United States and settled in New Orleans, where Elizabeth was educated.
At age sixteen or seventeen, she married a much older man named Eagles, who had two grown daughters about Elizabeth’s age. Eagles was a successful teaming contractor, but died in the course of his work, leaving his young widow an estate of $15,000.
Elizabeth had another short marriage to a man named Walter, who proved to be a gambler and who died after only eighteen months. During this time, her inheritance from her first husband shrunk to about $1,500.
Leaving New Orleans, Elizabeth sailed to Castillo, Nicaragua, where she loaned her money to the proprietor of a hotel and then became its manager. After a few months, she met John Edward Hollenbeck, a native of Ohio, and they were married in Nicaragua on March 30, 1853. Upon their marriage, John made Elizabeth promise that she would not mention she had been married twice before him—a promise that was secretly keep between them.
Edward had found a true helpmate in every sense of the word and Elizabeth had finally found a true-hearted, loyal and loving husband. Theirs was an ideal union of hearts and lives that never changed, wavered, or decayed in life or in memory.
On December 17, 1854 there was born to them their only child, named after his father. At an early age, the boy was taken from Nicaragua, because of fears for his health in that tropical climate, to the home of his grandparents in Pecatonica, Illinois and the Hollenbecks returned to Central America. Sadly, John, Jr. contracted diphtheria and died on July 3, 1857 as their parents were returning to Illinois after fleeing the turmoil surrounding the filibustering expedition of William Walker in Nicaragua.
After the Walker fiasco ended, Elizabeth and Edward remained in Central America until the mid-1870s when they moved to the new Los Angeles neighborhood known as Boyle Heights. For several years, they couple purchased some 7,000 acres in the Los Angeles area and their investments in Boyle Heights totaled over $180,000, which was an enormous sum during that time.
As soon as Elizabeth arrived in Boyle Heights she started to get involved in the building of the community. For example, she was very instrumental in establishing, on May 3, 1885, the first Presbyterian Church in the neighborhood. The church was located on the corner of State and First streets and services opened on December 28 of that year.
Elizabeth showed her devotion to the church in several ways. First, she made a large contribution towards the building and furnished the pews and pulpit at her expense. Then, acquiring the adjacent lot, she built a home for the minster and presented the deed for it to the church. Finally, she ordered a 560-pound bell, placed on December 24, 1885, in the church tower and it bears the inscription, “To the memory of John Edward Hollenbeck by his wife Elizabeth 1885.” This generosity was recognized by placing in the church a memorial window in honor of the Hollenbecks as a couple and another in recognition of Elizabeth. Subsequently, she deposited $5,000 in a savings bank to be released to the church after her death.
The Presbyterian Church was relocated on Chicago Street, where it still stands with its original stained glass windows today as the Iglesia Bautista Unida.
Another example of Elizabeth’s community work came when the newly-organized Occidental Collage was seeking friends to help fund a campus in 1887. Elizabeth came forward and donated twenty of the original fifty acres for the college, which was built on the Occidental Heights Tract in Boyle Heights. The campus opened its doors in 1888 and operated on the site until a fire destroyed it in 1896. Although Elizabeth offered land where the Santa Fe Hospital and Hollenbeck Park are located, the school decided it was better to be between Los Angeles and Pasadena. Occidental operated in Highland Park until 1914 and then moved to its current location, on a hundred acres, in Eagle Rock.
On January 16, 1892, Elizabeth joined Boyle Heights founder and former Los Angeles mayor William H. Workman in donating land to the City of Los Angeles land which became Hollenbeck Park comprising over twenty one acres.
In 1893-94, Elizabeth worked to have a lodge of the Free and Associated Masons established in Boyle Heights. On its completion in November 1894, the lodge was named Hollenbeck because she was respected by the lodge and they spoke well of her.
She was also a sympathetic supporter of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and other public causes.
In 1895, Elizabeth contacted the architectural firm of Morgan and Walls, which was well-known in Los Angeles for the many substantial structures it designed, to prepare the plans for the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged. The three-story brick and concrete building, was one of the first in Los Angeles to have a concrete foundation.
The firm’s senior partner, Octavius Morgan, traveled back east to view homes and returned to adopt the Mission style of architecture, with its arched porches, broad walls and solid masonry, for the Home. The design included many touches that emphasized comfort, convenience and restfulness that were new in buildings of the day and in many ways it gave the appearance of an up-to-date hotel with all of its luxuries .
The Hollenbeck Home of the Aged at 573 South Boyle Avenue, was dedicated on September 6, 1896 in a ceremony held on the eastern veranda of the building, as well as on a temporary projecting platform. About a thousand people were present to hear Elizabeth’s welcome, which included statements like:
One Sabbath Day just eleven years ago of him whose memory these walls have built were laid to rest. It is fitting that on this Anniversary Sabbath or rest day this place should be consecrated and dedicated to the use for which it was intended.
To the rich is the common desire, thinking little of the heavy responsibilities that riches bring.
Of him to whom much is given, much will be required.
Wealth is a power that should bring blessings in its wake.
Living energy from the human heart builds our railroads, ocean steamers, towns, and cities and protects the helpless.
Wealth also pampers pride, oppresses bribes and corrupts, yet through wealth this pile of Bricks, Lime, Wood, and Iron Material becomes a Home for the Aged, a protection to the destitute.
By no one perhaps has the responsibility that riches brings been more keenly felt then by the founders of this Home.
In April 1904, Elizabeth turned over the responsibility for the Home to William Stewart Young, while a new Boyle Heights residence was completed in December 1906 for her. A year later, she turned 80 years old and, at the request of the staff at the Home, a letter was sent to her in celebration from friends.
On the grounds of the Hollenbeck Home, Elizabeth commissioned the building of a chapel, dedicated in August 1908, dedicated to the memory of her son, John, Jr.
On September 6, 1918, the thirty-third anniversary of the death of her husband, Elizabeth passed away at the age of 90. She was buried next to John at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.
Having what may be called a comparatively very modest fortune, Elizabeth had ever vividly before her mind the question as to how she should best use this talent according to her religious beliefs. She expressed a desire to serve for the good of mankind and in accord with the spirit of her departed husband. She never forgot where her wealth came from and was sure to state that she always gave to the glory of her god.
Today, we can still see the places mentioned here that were established with the charitable and selfless spirit of Elizabeth and John, including Hollenbeck Park, the Presbyterian Church, the Hollenbeck Masonic Lodge building, Occidental College, and the Hollenbeck Home for the Aged (including its chapel.)
Credit for the information presented here by Boyle Heights Historical Society Secretary/CFO Victoria Torres is from “A History of Hollenbeck Home,” by William Stewart Young, 1934.