Admirers of the Arts & Crafts era and Arroyo history gathered on Sunday in Highland Park to tour the Abbey San Encino, the home of Clyde Browne, a printer and writer who hauled stones up from the Arroyo Seco to build what resembles a small-scale California mission complete with faux bell tower. In addition to architecture and history, some of Sunday’s visitors might have also been curious about another Browne who once called the Abbey San Encino home: musician and songwriter Jackson Browne. Browne, a grandson of Clyde Browne, moved out of the house off Figueroa Street as a teenager but returned occasionally to visit and work. The home’s grapevine-shaded courtyard inspired the cover artwork on Browne’s “For Everyman” album. In a 1974 story for Rolling Stone, writer Cameron Crowe wrote about visiting Browne and his newborn son, Ethan, at The Abbey San Encino:
Boxes of Wipe Dipe are in both the living room and the adjoining bedroom, where the baby’s crib sits at the foot of his parents; tattered-quilt-covered bed. On one shelf, tucked back against a wall, is an unopened box of IT’S A BOY! ROI TAN cigars. Outside, across the patio that serves as the cover of For Everyman, past the well and under the bambooed eaves of one walkway, a voice sings a lullaby in a foreign tone. It is the housekeeper, a woman from San Salvador, and she is in the kitchen, cradling Ethan in her arms while his father is out shopping.
Down along the other side of the patio is the chapel, used by grandfather Browne as a print shop, but equipped with a 14-pipe Angeles organ that takes up the entire end wall. Wrapped around the bases of the four central pipes is a banner declaring: “Golden notes from Leaden Throats.”
Jackson uses the chapel as a rehearsal room, and these days, between tours, he is writing songs into an accounting record book propped up against the grand piano. He’s on about page 105, working on another song of retrospection, of the man looking back at the child: “In my early years I hid my tears and passed my days alone/Adrift on an ocean of loneliness/ My dreams like nets were thrown…”
On Sunday, Martha Benedict took photos of the interior, including a “dungeon,” stained glass windows that Clyde Browne salvaged from the downtown Van Nuys Hotel and that pipe organ Cameron Crowe described. The Abbey San Encino, which is closed to the public, remains owned by the Browne family.
Photos by Martha Benedict