Early resident had English ties

August 09, 2011|By Katherine Yamada
  • Spencer and Bertha Robinson in front of their Windsor Street house. Photo, ca 1920s. (Courtesy of Stephen E. Hunt and Susan D. Hunt)
Spencer and Bertha Robinson in front of their Windsor…

Spencer Robinson was one of the early pioneers of Glendale, arriving here the same year Glendale became a city. He later served as the city’s first mayor.

Robinson brought with him an illustrious history. Not only was he descended from old American Colonial stock, he was an accomplished singer who had often appeared in concert.

A native of Illinois, he was born to Dean and Julia (Spencer) Robinson. His mother was descended from a prominent English line, according to one of Robinson’s relatives, Steve Hunt. Hunt and his wife, Susan, who live here in Glendale, have done extensive research on Robinson.

“Spencer Robinson shared ancestry with Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales and with Winston Spencer Churchill and also with Queen Elizabeth II, by way of her mother Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon,” Hunt said.

Robinson’s Spencer ancestors left England for Massachusetts in the early 1600s. His grandfather, John Winchell Spencer, was among the first settlers at Rock Island, Illinois; serving as the first county judge and donating the land and funds to erect a Methodist Church in that city.


His mother, Julia Spencer, was a founding member of the Rock Island chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and was also a member of the Colonial Dames. In 1859, she married Dean Tyler Robinson, a lumber dealer, and member of another old colonial family. Their son, Spencer, was born in 1868.

As a young man, Spencer Robinson worked on riverboats. After graduating from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania in 1891, he became a traveling salesman for the Rock Island Plow Company, covering the state of Iowa, all the while developing his tenor voice and considering a career as a professional singer.

Three years after graduation, he made the decision to concentrate on a singing career. He moved to Chicago to study voice and began performing in concerts. Then he embarked on a concert tour that included Great Britain and Europe, studying, performing and later teaching.

According to the Glendale News-Press, March 19, 1955, Robinson sang on the opera stage in Chicago and also on the Chautauqua circuit and with several prominent evangelists of the day, including Billy Sunday. He was in his early 30s by 1900 when he made his first trip to Los Angeles to perform at the Hazard Pavilion on Hill Street with evangelist Bob Burdette. He also appeared at the First Methodist Church, where his uncle, Reverend Romaine S. Cantine was the minister, according to Hunt.

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