Emerson Avenue/Place

Willis George Emerson (1856-1918) was a banker, town builder, promoter, realtor, and novelist. He was also a conman. Born and raised in Iowa, Emerson’s debut novel Winning Winds was published in early 1885, a year before he moved to Meade, KS. There he received his first accusation of fraud, when farmers were swindled in an 1889 sugar refinery proposal built on lies. Emerson pinned the blame on his partners – this would become a pattern – and got off scot-free, although he soon left town. He then drifted from state to state, wife to wife, and scheme to scheme: fleecing copper mine investors in Colorado and Wyoming, laying out the townsites of Idaho Falls, ID and Encampment, WY, and writing several more novels. In 1904, Emerson came to Los Angeles and formed the Emerson Realty Co. While mostly focused on developing Calexico and Brawley in Imperial County, he was also sales agent here on the 1906 Ramona Acres tract, where he named Emerson Place and at least three streets after characters from his books: Hampton, Hilliard, and Avondale. Emerson’s final scam was the Emerson Motors Company, which he cofounded in 1916. Like his earlier ventures, sales predictions were absurdly exaggerated in order to bilk shareholders; some claim the few vehicles the plant “produced” were actually Fords in disguise. Emerson was finally indicted for mail fraud but died before he could go on trial.