Sidney Preston Dones was born in Marshall, Texas in 1888. After graduating from Wiley College in 1905 he moved to Los Angeles. In 1906, Dones moved to El Paso, Texas where he unsuccessfully tried to establish an African-American colony in Mexico. Returning to California, he began to prosper by buying and selling real estate. He was also a money lender, an insurance agent, a music dealer, and ultimately, a filmmaker and actor. His primary clientele was African American, but he was also able to win the confidence and respect of whites.
When W.E.B. Du Bois visited Los Angeles in 1913 he trumpeted the “snap and ambition” of the city’s “new blood.” Dones had the most snap, and was largely responsible for solidifying Black enterprise on Central Avenue. In 1914, he organized the Sidney P. Dones Company and set up shop at 8th and Central, next door to the Black owned newspaper, The California Eagle. Dones’s company dealt mainly in real estate but also offered insurance and legal services, courtesy of the black attorney C.A. Jones. In 1915 The New Age reported that Dones won the title of Los Angeles’ most popular young businessman and “[He] is enjoying the greatest real estate and insurance business of any race man in the West.”
In early 1916, Dones opened the Booker T. Washington Building at 10th Street and Central Avenue. The Washington Building was a handsome three-story affair, with shops on the sidewalk level and offices and apartments above. The Eagle, called it the “Largest and Best Appointed Edifice on Central Avenue” and added that it was “Procured for Colored Business Men.”
In 1924 Dones along with other prominent African Americans, including Norman O. Houston, Joe and Charlotta Bass, Hattie S. Baldwin, bought 1,000 acres in Santa Clarita Valley, forty miles north of Los Angeles, to build a vacation resort for African Americans. These investors, who called their proposed community Eureka Villa, envisioned a resort area of cabins located on half-acre lots, free from the prejudices and restrictions of the city. The resort featured a community house, tennis courts, baseball fields, hiking trails and a nine-hole golf course. It was an immediate success with buyers from nearby states, and as far away as Chicago and Cleveland. While Eureka Villa was never exclusively African American, they were the predominant owners of the restaurants, inns and stores in the area.
As an actor and director, Dones is known for the films Injustice (1919), Reformation (1920), and The Ten Thousand Dollar Trail (1921). He was married to Lavinia H. Relerford and later to Bessie Williams. Sidney P. Dones died on August 2, 1947 in Los Angeles, California.
Source(s): Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America; Blackpast.org; IMDB. Photo Source: Pragmatic Obots Unite.