Andrew F. and Ella C. MacFarland only occupied it for two years but they left Pacific Beach with a grand edifice that has looked over the community for more than a century. Behind the doors, however, their lives were a comedy of errors that eventually played out in courtrooms and newspapers across the state.
A. F. MacFarland had been an insurance agent in San Francisco and then vice-president and manager of an insurance company in Spokane. In September 1907 the MacFarlands paid a visit to Pacific Beach, staying at the Hotel Balboa, the building originally built for the San Diego College of Letters. They apparently liked what they saw; within weeks Ella had purchased 4 lots at the northeast corner of Lamont and Beryl Streets. In October the San Diego Union reported that they planned to build a $4000 house there and they moved into their new home in February 1908.
While living in their handsome house on the hill Mr. MacFarland became active in San Diego city affairs. He served on the executive board of a committee of 100 prominent citizens campaigning for amendments to the city charter. Closer to home, he filed petitions with the city clerk to have streets graded in Pacific Beach. In February 1909 he was one of the organizers of the Pacific Beach Country Club, which sub-leased space in the Hotel Balboa.
In August 1909 the Union reported that Mr. and Mrs. A. F. MacFarland had traveled to Los Angeles for Elks week. They had made the trip overland in their Maxwell runabout, making the distance between Los Angeles and Pacific Beach in only eight hours. A month later MacFarland was in the news again; this time burglars had ‘jimmied’ a window in his home with an axe and stolen a quantity of wearing apparel, seven suits of clothing worth $700 (although police did not expect to learn the exact amount of the ‘depredations’ until MacFarland returned from the north, the estimate of $700 would be a substantial proportion of the value of his home).
The MacFarlands’ residence in Pacific Beach turned out to be brief; by the end of 1909 they had moved out and returned to San Francisco, where he organized the San Francisco Life Insurance Company. It was also there where he became notorious as the ‘Bluebeard Mate’ and ‘Hymeneal Champ’, known for his ‘unparalleled demonstration of frenzied matrimony’ and ‘spectacular matrimonial tangles’.
According to the San Francisco Call, the history of his ‘hymeneal ventures’ began with his marriage to Leona Mayval more than 25 years before, at his old home in Genoa, Ohio. A year or two later he had moved to Kansas where, in 1896, he married Minnie Gerard, his previous wife forgotten although never divorced. After a few months he found that Minnie had another husband living so he left her and, in 1898, married Ella Clem in Oklahoma.
In early 1911 Ella found out about his marriage to Minnie and at his suggestion sought an annulment, ostensibly to leave him free to have the Kansas marriage annulled. Ella apparently understood that after this ‘tangle’ was straightened out they would then be remarried. Her annulment was granted on January 14, 1911 and the annulment of his previous marriage on January 28. However, Ella had her annulment vacated on March 17, alleging fraud and conspiracy. She claimed to be the victim of a plot by MacFarland and one ‘Jane Doe’ to deprive her of her share of community property worth $30,000.
On January 31, 1911, while temporarily free of his two most recent wives, Andrew MacFarland entered into a fourth marriage, this time with his former stenographer, Ethyl Groom, who herself had lately secured an annulment from her husband because he had another wife living in the east. When the annulment of his marriage to Ella was set aside, making MacFarland again a bigamist, Ethyl had her marriage to him annulled, on March 23, again with the understanding that he would divorce Ella and then remarry her. However, according to the Call, he then ‘seems suddenly to have recalled his first love in Ohio’ and returned there before dropping out of sight.
The San Francisco Call estimated Andrew MacFarland’s private fortune to be in the six figures, and all in cash. Miss Groom, although no longer married to MacFarland, claimed some of that cash as her own, saying that he had given her $10,000 in banknotes as a wedding gift and then stolen it. She had him charged with grand larceny and he was tracked down and arrested in Colorado Springs, where, according to the Call, he was on the point of leaving for Puerto Rico in the company of Ella.
At his trial in San Francisco, Ethyl made a ‘picturesque witness’ but the wealthy insurance promoter denied he ever gave her money and claimed she was merely seeking notoriety with a view to going on the stage. That jury could not reach a verdict, but he was acquitted in a second trial, on September 24, 1912.
By this time Andrew F. MacFarland was living in San Diego again, at the corner of B and Edgemont streets, and by 1914 the city directory indicated that Ella C. MacFarland also resided at that address. They later moved to 29th Street near Beech in South Park. Andrew was again involved in city politics and was mentioned as a candidate for appointment as City Manager. Ella was remembered as a popular South Park hostess.
However, their marital relationship apparently never recovered, and in August 1918 Andrew MacFarland again returned to the courts. His complaint for divorce from Ella stated that his employment made it necessary for him to be in Los Angeles during the week and when he returned to his wife and home in San Diego for weekends she acted in a cold and unaffectionate manner and visited upon him a continuous tirade of abuse, denouncing him as untrue to her and spending his money in riotous living during his absence from home. He begged her to cease but her actions remained the same; she pursued a studied and continuous course of nagging, vilifications, and denunciation. He added that all of her accusations were untrue.
Ella MacFarland’s cross-complaint denied these allegations and instead claimed that he had deserted and abandoned her and continued to live separate and apart from her against her will and without her consent. She prayed for judgment of the court that the bonds of matrimony between them be dissolved and that he take nothing under his complaint and be required to pay a reasonable sum for court costs and counsel fees. Judge Marsh ruled in September 1918 that all the allegations in the cross-complaint were true and granted Ella a divorce and $300 for court costs and attorney’s fees.
A week after his divorce from Ella, 51-year-old Andrew F. MacFarland married a 25-year-old stenographer and they apparently went on to lead an uncharacteristically quiet life in Los Angeles. Ella MacFarland also moved to Los Angeles, occasionally returning to visit friends in San Diego.