Weekend Escape: Will Rogers State
by Jo Anne Disney
October 30, 2013 • 363 views
Located in picturesque Pacific Palisades, the Will Rogers State Historical Park has recently had the ranch house renovated. Forgotten by some, it is a wonderful place to visit, especially for elementary age children to learn about history and walk the same grounds of a very great humanitarian, Will Rogers.
Rogers was born on November 4, 1879 on a frontier ranch between Claremore and Oologah, Oklahoma. He was of Cherokee descent and proud of it. Rogers attended Kemper Military Academy in Boonville, Missouri. He left school in 1898 and started life as a cowhand. He traveled to Argentina and ended up in South Africa a few years later as a member of Texas Jack’s Wild West Circus. In 1908 Rogers married Betty Blake, a school teacher from Arkansas. They had four children, the youngest, died in 1919 of diphtheria. Rogers went on to become a stage and movie star, an entertainer, a comedian with the Ziegfeld Follies and will be most remembered as a “homespun philosopher.” His witty comments on the news appeared in about 350 daily newspapers. His most infamous line, “… I never met a man I didn’t like.” will live on forever.
Rogers and his wife donated both time and money to helping those less fortunate. In 1917 he pledged 10% of his yearly income to the Red Cross, which amounted to $5,200. He also appeared in many benefits to raise funds for families of soldiers fighting in the war. In 1928, Rogers and his family moved from his home in Beverly Hills to the ranch house in the central Santa Monica Mountains, which started as a 6-room cabin and became a 31-room home. In touring the ranch you will find authentic furnishings, the original porch swing from his home in Beverly Hills, paintings, sculptures, numerous Indian rugs and baskets. As you tour the ranch house and walk from room to room, the aura from this family follows you. The den served as both a music room and library, where there are many first edition books given to Rogers as gifts. The sitting room next to the master bedroom displays Rogers’ desk, typewriter and maps of trips made.
Today, Rogers is still regarded as one of the greatest ropers of all time. It is said that he always tried to rope his guests at the ranch. One guest sent him a stuffed calf that is on display at the ranch house and suggested he rope it as opposed to his guests. Rogers took his advice and roped the stuff calf so much that its ears wore off.
Rogers was killed on August 15, 1935 at the age of 55, in a private plan crash near Barrow, Alaska. In 1944, Betty Rogers “deeded the 186-acre ranch to the State of California for public use and enjoyment as a memorial, historical monument and public park.” Will Rogers State Historic Park is located at 1501 Will Rogers State Park Road, Pacific Palisades. For more information visit: www.parks.ca.gov/willrogers.