Robert L. Burns

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Burns in the early 1920s

Robert L. Burns (January 12, 1876 – March 17, 1955) was a Los Angeles school board member between 1923 and 1929 and Los Angeles City Council member between 1929 and 1945. He previously was on the school board in Hutchinson, Kansas. At his death in 1955, he was described as Los Angeles's "elder statesman."[1]


Burns was born January 12, 1876, in Knoxville, Iowa, the son of William E. Burns of Erie, Pennsylvania, and Dulcina Elizabeth French of Indiana. His brothers were Fred F., Jed W. and William Burns. He graduated from high school in Hutchinson, Kansas, and then became a lawyer and was business manager of The Hutchinson News; He also engaged in coal mining and the "telephone business."[2]

Burns was married to Sarah Bertram of Kentucky on October 11, 1898; they had four sons, William B., Robert J., Harry F. and John A. [2][3]

He and a brother began a flour mill that grew into the Consolidated Flour Mills of Kansas, His company was the first in the nation to introduce the eight-hour day for mill employees. In 1916, he retired and moved to Los Angeles, where he joined the Los Angeles Country Club. A Presbyterian and a Republican, he was a notable chess player. In 1934 he was living at 673 Hobart Boulevard. [2][4][5] In that year, an interviewer wrote about him:

So interested and energetic is Robert L. Burns in the discharge of his councilmanic duties that his colleagues call him, "the Watch Dog of the City Treasury." A forceful personality, but admittedly not a "joiner," Mr. Burns belongs to no clubs of any sort, professing more interest in his jobs than in handshaking. Until He became a member of the City Council, golf was his hobby. Now, with very little spare time, reading and browsing at home in his large library has superseded the golf."[2]

Burns died March 17, 1955, in his home at 672 South Serrano Avenue, between Wilshire Boulevard and Seventh Street.[6] He was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery.

Public service[edit]


Burns was on the school board in Hutchinson, Kansas, for five years.[2][7]

Los Angeles[edit]

School board[edit]

Burns first ran for election to the Los Angeles Board of Education in May 1923, when he came in thirteenth in a field of twenty,[8] a sufficiently high result to be nominated for election to the seven-member board. In the final vote in June, he was third and was elected.[9] He was reelected in 1925 and 1927 but announced in January 1929 that he would run for the City Council.[10]

As a school board member, he attended the unveiling of a portrait of the late school superintendent Susan Miller Dorsey in 1929[11] and cast one of the favorable votes the same year to purchase the surplus property of the UCLA campus on Vermont Avenue to be used by Los Angeles City College.[12]

City Council[edit]

See also List of Los Angeles municipal election returns, 1929–43

Burns was first elected to represent the 4th District on the City Council in 1929, was repeatedly reelected for sixteen years, and for half of that time was the council president,[1] serving as acting mayor when the mayor himself was out of the state. Known as an opponent of "radicals and subversives,"[13] Burns was opposed in his candidacy in 1935 by James A. Farley, postmaster-general of the United States and chairman of the national Democratic Party, in telegrams sent to two council members.[14]

In January 1930, Burns and seven other council members who had voted in favor of granting a rock-crushing permit in the Santa Monica Mountains were unsuccessfully targeted for recall on the grounds that the eight "have conspired with Alphonzo Bell, Samuel Traylor and Chapin A. Day, all multi-millionaires, to grant this group a special spot zoning permit to crush and ship from the high-class residential section of Santa Monica, limestone and rock for cement."[15]

Burns was one of the six council members who in July 1931 lost a vote to appeal a judge's decision ordering an end to racial restrictions in city-operated swimming pools. The pools had previously been restricted by race to certain days or hours.[16]


Burns was appointed to the Water and Power Commission in 1945 and subsequently to the Recreation and Park Commission. He headed the Coliseum Commission in 1947.[1] A city park (Burns Park) at Beverly Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue was named after him in 1959.[17][18]


Preceded by
William M. Hughes
Los Angeles City Council
4th District

Succeeded by
Harold A. Henry