By Susan Motander
For decades the McBratney name was synonymous with quality. The family-owned department store on Myrtle Avenue carried the very best quality goods and it was a Monrovia institution. Unfortunately, the return of “McBratney’s” was only a visit by members of the family, not a return of that renowned store.
The occasion was a visit by Sam McBratney, well-known Irish author of more than 50 children’s books including the international best seller, Guess How Much I Love You? This book alone has sold millions of copies worldwide and has been translated into 57 languages. This McBratney not only came to visit the house that had been the family home in Monrovia, but also to read his most famous book to children at Mayflower Elementary School, the alma mater of his American cousins.
Among those cousins was John McBratney, the youngest son of John Bryson McBratney who immigrated to America from Ireland in 1906 with no specific destination in mind. John B. was traveling with his older brother, William J. McBratney, and as Charlie Davis wrote in his 1938 History of Monrovia and Duarte, heard about the healthful air about Monrovia. As William was in poor health, the two settled here.
William immediately began selling Irish linen door to door while his brother searched for work. As Monrovia’s current City Historian Steve Baker tells the story, the linen business did well eventually moving first from a simple sample case of linens to a horse and buggy and later to a half storefront in the 600 block of Myrtle Avenue.
While the business climate was beneficial to the McBratneys, the climate did not support William as well and he died leaving the store to his younger brother. By the 1950s the store had expanded to include four storefronts in the 400 block of Myrtle Avenue. And the store carried a certain panache.
My own grandmother said that McBratneys was the place to purchase the luxuries in life, good handkerchiefs, and one’s Easter dresses. It was that sort of store.
And so a reunion of members of the McBratney family came about this week after the storytime at Mayflower. John McBratney, now the patriarch of the American branch of the family, and former resident of the house on Alta Vista, was joined by his now-famous Irish cousin Sam and wife Maralyn, and his nephews, Bryson, Mickey, and Jeff, along with Jeff’s wife, Cindy.
As they wandered through the Monrovia Historically landmarked house with its current owner, Eric Lawn, John reminisced about his early days there. He proudly showed off what had been “his” room with what he called ‘the best view in the house,” and acknowledged that he had burned a rather impressive hole in the floor while “tinkering” with a chemistry set. He also recalled the eccentricities of the plumbing and how by flushing one toilet in a certain way, all the toilet in the house would flush and how that “disrupted” his sister just before she was set to go out one evening.
On a more somber note, walking into the dining room he recalled being gathered there for a meal when the whole family first heard the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was that sort of tour: the happy recollections of youthful exploits and the poignant memories of historical moments in time. All shared with immediate family and that distant, now-famous relative.
It was a delightful afternoon of remembering a bit of Monrovia’s history, but for myself, I would rather have had a return of McBratney’s, the story, not just the members of the McBratney family for a brief visit.