The Argyle: A Slow, Steady Decline, Part 1


Situated at the corner of Olive and Second, the Argyle House was built in the 1880s by a Scottish gentleman, and quickly became as respectable a salon (and saloon) as could be found on Bunker Hill. Parties, weddings, and cotillions were frequently held here, and as a rooming house, it tended to attract musical types who frequently advertised their services as voice and piano instructors in the pages of the Times.

In October 1887, the Argyle House opened its doors under new management, advertising for roomers. Almost immediately after, however, it closed them, citing a need for renovations. The hotel reopened in June 1888, boasting 61 "large and sunny" rooms, but it was an auspicious beginning for the Argyle, and not the last time it would close abruptly.

With its adjoining restaurant and parlor, the Argyle was a lively and welcome addition to Bunker Hill. The Times wrote, "A good many pleasant people stop at this establishment and they go in for a good time socially," and "The Argyle people are convivial, if anything."

But after a few years of good times, the Argyle closed suddenly in 1893, and nobody knew why until news of a lawsuit leaked out. In November of that year, the owner, W.A. Nimock, sued D.E. Barton, who held the lease on the property. Nimock sought to recover possession of the Argyle, plus $3000 in damages.

And then, there were the assault charges.

It seems that Mr. and Mrs. Nimocks had leased the property to the Abbott family, parents of renowned opera singer Emma Abbott (who had died in 1891, shortly after her 40th birthday). When the Abbotts had to return East suddenly, they transferred their lease to Barton who promptly commandeered the place and began extensive renovations without the Nimocks’ approval. He shuttered the windows, kicked out the tenants, and ripped out the carpets.

The Nimocks wanted the Abbotts running the Argyle, but when they returned from the East, Barton refused to leave. What’s more, he told Mrs. Nimock (who handled most of the day-to-day on the property) that she could not enter the building, and locked himself in.

Thus thwarted, Mrs. Nimock did the only reasonable thing, and broke in through a window, tearing off a screen in the process. Mr. Barton was inside at the time, and proceeded to throw Mrs Nimock out the window through which she’d entered.

Hence, the assault charge.

But, as neither Mrs. Nimock nor her counsel appeared in court, the charges were dismissed. Barton said he would stay until his lease expired, which he apparently did. However, by early 1894, the Abbotts were once again running the Argyle as a rooming house, throwing fabulous parties, and holding court.

Over the next five years, the Argyle would change hands three times, finally ending up the property of Chicago native John Woelke in 1899. Like those before him, Woelke said he planned to remodel it into a "first class hotel," then lease it to a "responsible tenant." Easier said than done.

By 1936, the Times was lamenting the fallen state of the building, which once had been lovely and frequented by the best sorts. Regrettably, its best features, the porches and front wing, had been taken off when the road was widened for the Second Street Tunnel, and like most Bunker Hill establishments, its residents were no longer so glittering and well-connected.

Next week: crimes and misdemeanors at the Argyle, including beatings, wayward urchins, and the slit throat that wasn’t. Stay tuned!

Photo from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection