Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who Was Sidney J. Bracey?

Can Lan Lan wait a few more years until this blooms? Or will she demand I get a blooming-size one next Spring? She’s staring at a Lc. S.J. Bracey ‘Waiolani.’ The pictures of the full-sized plants look gorgeous, but who the heck is S.J. Bracey?

Typing “Sidney Bracey” and “orchids” into Google immediately leads me to references to an actor named Sidney Bracey who played an uncredited role in Edward G. Robinson’s “Brother Orchid” (a wonderful movie, by the way). Searches for B.O. Bracey were equally frustrating. To the library!

With a little research, I discovered that Sidney J. Bracey was born in England in 1899. He came to the United States with his brother Benjamin O. Bracey in the early 1920’s. Both were listed in the census as florists in the greenhouse industry. By 1930, Sidney was married to a woman named Louise and they had a three year-old daughter named Vanda.

A 1927 Los Angeles Times article described how Ben Bracey went to see Walter Armacost, a horticulturalist from the Chicago area. Bracey had, “like his father before him, been employed on a great estate in England to grow orchids.” Bracey and Armacost made a business arrangement and then brought Lewis Knudson out from the east coast so he could teach Bracey and Armacost his revolutionary techniques of growing orchids from seed on sterile agar (LAT, Jun. 19, 1927, L3). The article also discussed how Bracey and Armacost hoped to develop a “perpetual Cattleya.”  Dream on, kids.

Before World War II, Ben Bracey trained renown orchid breeders Oscar and William Kirsch, Joe Ozella, and Joe Hampton.  In 1952, he founded his own company and created the famed Lc. Bonanza -- an orchid Robert Atkinson described as "one of the greatest orchids of all time" (LAT, 17 Apr. 1966, pg. 18).

[Sidney Bracey is shown in the photo above and Ben Bracey is shown working in his lab below on the left.]

Brother Sidney was no slouch, either.  In 1937, Sidney Bracey wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times (“Confessions of an Orchid Grower” Dec. 12, L16) outlining seed propagation methods. The article features two women. Is this Louise Bracey? Or could this be Betty Bracey?

In 1952, Sidney Bracey wrote another article for the Times discussing his Lc. ‘Los Angeles,’ named in recognition of the anniversary of the founding of Los Angeles. He wrote: “its production evolves from thousands of years spent by nature perfecting yellow-toned species and the world famous natural hybrid Cattleya hardyana” (Aug. 31, F25).  I haven't found any contemporary references to the Lc. 'Los Angeles.'  What happened?

Lan Lan and I have many more questions about S.J. Bracey and his family, but anyone who names their kid Vanda can’t be half bad.


Anonymous said...

Sydney J Bracey was my great uncle

jefftex3 said...


I am an orchid historian and am trying to find out if Vanda Louise is still living and how to contact her. please contact me

CatsandCatts said...

Thanks Jeff -- I'll try to contact Clair, too, and let her know.

You might try -- has family tree resources that one can often "work backwards" from.

Also, I'd love to hear about your work. Orchid history fascinates me.

David Hendrickson said...

Sidney Bracey was m grandfather and "vanda louise" was my mother. She changed her name to Leanne Ames but she passed away in March of 2009. I would be happy to provide any information that I can.

Cabo4Sale Real Estate said...

Sidney Bracey was also my Grandfather and Vanda Louise my mother. Her married name was Louise Hendrickson and then changed her name is 1982 to Leanne Ames. My brother meant that our mother passed away in March of 2010R.I.P mom and grandpa!

TheRealTomato said...

Walter L Armacost mentioned in this article is my great-grandfather. He was married to Anna Marie Shirey and their second child Elizabeth Armacost was my grandmother. She kept a lot of genealogy (which I have now) and included is letters talking that make mention of Mr. Bracey.
I remember a long drive and a visit to the house on Armacost Ave when I was a child. I wonder if it is still there.
How exciting to see this info on the internet.

TheRealTomato said...
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