Temple Street Cable Railway

Of the two cable car lines that ran through Bunker Hill in the late 1880s, the Second Street Railway was the first to be financed and functioning, but the Temple Street line would prove to be more durable and longer lasting. While the cable cars of Los Angeles are now just a very small footnote in the city’s history, the Temple Street Railway was for years, a reliable mainstay for Bunker Hill residents in the waning days of the Victorian era.

Cable cars did not come to Los Angeles until 1885, even though a local paper suggested in 1882 that a line running up Temple and over to the Normal School (where the Central Library now stands) would be a good idea. The Temple Street line was conceived of around the same time as its Second Street counterpart, but while the latter immediately had investors reaching into deep pockets, the raising of funds for the Temple cable cars was slower going. A month after the Second Street line was completed, the Temple Street Cable Car Railway Company was finally able to incorporate with a Board of Directors that included Walter S Maxwell, Victor Beaudry, Ralph Rogers, Thomas Stovell, Julius Lyons, E.A. Wall, O. Morgan, Prudent Beaudry and John Milner.

 

Work on the line began in December of 1885 and was estimated to be completed by the following May. Unlike the Second Street line which was constructed rapidly to capitalize on the real estate boom of the 1880s, the Temple line was built with considerably more care. Completion of the railway was delayed, mainly due to wait times on parts ordered from around the country, and the Temple Street cable car made its eagerly awaited inaugural trip through Bunker Hill on July 14, 1886.

 

The Temple line cost $90,000 to construct (around 2 million in today’s dollars) and would require roughly 600 passengers a day, each way, to make a profit. The cars, built by the John Stephenson Co of New York, held fourteen passengers and according to the Los Angeles Times, “are models of elegance and easy motion.” The line initially ran 1.6 miles up Temple from Spring to Belmont, and would eventually be extended to Hoover in an area then known as Dayton Heights. Unlike the failed attempt of the Second Street line to connect with the Cahuenga Valley Railroad, the Temple Railway was successfully connected with the steam cars which allowed passengers to transfer from one line to another and travel out to Hollywood.

 

Tragedy struck the Temple Street Cable Railway on the morning of January 16, 1892 when James Brown, a 51 year old employee of the railway company for six years, was killed in a freak accident. Every day, Brown would oil the wheels from the end of the line up to the powerhouse on Edgeware near Echo Park. On the fateful morning, a piece of Brown’s clothing was caught between a cable and the wheel. The speed of the wheel pulled his arm off and as the Times reported, “he was terribly mangled around the head and face, and several bones were crushed, so that death must have almost been instantaneous.” Almost a year later, Brown’s widow would be awarded $20,000 from the Temple Street Railway Company.

Great flooding in 1889 would obliterate the Second Street line, but the better built Temple railway would persevere with little interruption to service and would carry 1.5 million passengers by year’s end. This would prove to be the pinnacle for the line, which never turned much of a profit and was near bankruptcy by 1897. The cars managed to chug along for another few years, but by 1902 they were breaking down frequently and many residents opted to walk along the rails instead of waiting to catch a ride on these relics of a bygone era. The railway was purchased by railroad magnate Henry Huntington in late 1901 who would eventually make the line an electric one. On November 18, 1902, the cable cars on Temple Street officially stopped running.

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Second Street Cable Railway

 

Many an Angeleno has heard of the legendary Pacific Electric Railway, or Red Car system which transported passengers to locations well beyond the city limits. Those who have brushed up on their local history are probably familiar with The Los Angeles Railway (LARy), aka the Yellow Cars, whose routes journeyed within city line. However, most are probably unaware that the City of Angels briefly sported a couple of good old fashioned cable car lines that ran right through Bunker Hill. The first cable line to maneuver the hills of Downtown ran along Second Street, delighted travelers, and lead to the westward expansion of the city. Despite its fantastic success, the Second Street Cable Railway survived for only a short period of time.

During the real estate boom of the 1880s, the area just west of Downtown was what the newspapers referred to as a “howling wilderness,” largely because the hilly terrain rendered navigation by horse drawn carriage virtually impossible. This slight obstacle did not discourage local land owners who sought to make the area attractive for development. By this time, the cable cars in San Francisco had been successfully operating for over a decade and some enterprising businessman began to consider this mode of transportation as a solution to Mother Nature’s challenges.

Plans for two separate cable lines sprang up at the same time, but the Second Street Cable Railway Company was always a step ahead of the alternate line which would eventually run up Temple Street. Land owners with holdings west of the city provided much of the capital for the Second Street Line, along with business owners on Spring Street near Second, who hoped convenient transportation would boost retail in the area. Some of the main backers and promoters of the railway company included Edward A. Hall, Henry Witmer, I.W. Lord and John Hollenbeck. Lord, who would later found the city of Lordsburg (now La Verne) broke ground on the project, and the first tracks for the new cable line were laid at the intersection of Second and Hill on the morning of April 27, 1885. Five days later the first advertisements promoting real estate near the proposed line began appearing in the local newspapers.

Construction on the line continued at breakneck speed, which was no small task considering pieces of hillside were cut and removed at some parts of the line. The Second Street Cable Railroad was completed in the early fall and made its inaugural trip at 4:05pm on October 14, 1885. The line ran approximately 6,770 feet, or a mile and a quarter, up Second Street and through Bunker Hill from Spring to Belmont. A one way trip took between twelve and fourteen minutes and the line was open from 6am to 11pm. At its steepest, the cable cars ran over the hills of Los Angeles at a twenty seven percent grade between Hope Street and Bunker Hill Avenue. The total cost to construct the line was roughly $100,000.

The Second Street Cable Railway was an immediate success and did indeed spark development on the land west of Bunker Hill. Investors originally expected the line to serve around six hundred people a day, but by the end of 1886, the cable cars were carrying more that three times that number. In January 1887, Edward Hall and Henry Witmer, President and Treasurer of the Second Street Cable Railway Company, decided to get out when the getting was good. They sold their company shares to James M. McLaughlin for $130,000 and he became the primary owner of the Second Street Cable Railway.

McLaughlin had ambitious plans to connect Downtown with the area that would eventually become Hollywood, by connecting the cable railway with a steam line called the Cahuenga Valley Railroad. The plans turned sour when the Cahuenga Valley Railroad was barred from operating within the city limits because of the noise and air pollution. McLaughlin’s attempts to get the Second Street Line extended soon failed. Add to this the end of the boom times and McLaughlin soon found himself and his company in the red. By the end of 1889, McLaughlin was virtually bankrupt and the line stopped running while legal matters were straightened out. That winter, torrential rains severely damaged portions of the line and by early 1890 McLaughlin had lost the company, and the first cable line of Los Angeles was permanently abandoned.

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the USC Digital Archive

 

The Richelieu Hotel – 142 South Grand Avenue

 

Richelieu Hotel

For nearly seventy years the Richelieu Hotel resided next door to the better known Melrose. The pair of Queen Anne Victorian buildings were two of the most stunning structures on the Hill, but the Richelieu always stood in the shadow of its counterpart. The Melrose once played host to President McKinley, was memorialized by artists like Leo Politi, and was covered by local press when the wrecking crews came. The Richelieu on the other hand, was far less celebrated but no less important, making its small mark on the history of a neighborhood that no longer exists.

Richelieu Hotel

The Richelieu Hotel was built by Richard E. Larkin and his wife Helen, and opened around 1891. Apparently the hotel was not particularly plush, for when the Larkins sold it to a Chicago business man a mere two years after it was built, the Times reported that “the purchaser will spend considerable money giving the house a thorough overhauling, and will run it as a first class hotel.” The overhaul was successful, and the Richelieu played host to society gatherings, and many local families and single residents would call the hotel home.  

LA Times HEadline

For the most part, the Richelieu maintained a relatively tranquil existence, with a bit of color thrown in here and there. In March of 1901, a bold burglar successfully struck Bunker Hill five times in one night, including the room J.F. Currier was occupying at the Richelieu. The cagey criminal was an expert lock picker who entered Currier’s room and made off with $150 in cash and a gold pocket watch without disturbing the resident’s slumber. The hotel was the victim of another burglary in 1904 when thieves entered the room of Mr. & Mrs. Bob Northam. The culprits were lucky that the Northams were out. The couple had been robbed a few months earlier and the Mrs had responded by lodging a bullet in the fleeing burglar. Of the more recent crime, Mrs. Northam expressed regrets that she was not around to take a shot at the thieves.

LA Times Headline

In May of 1949, the Times reported that a pair of detectives were investigating a narcotics lead at the Richelieu, when Ricardo Rameriez walked in on the pair. He attempted to quickly walk out, but was nabbed by the detectives who found $800 worth of heroin on him. One of the detectives spotted Rameriez’s wife waiting in a car down the street and asked her if she wanted to join her husband in jail. “Might as well,” she said and off she went. The next day, the detectives found the couple’s $36,000 smack stash at a hotel on Figueroa.

LA Times Headline

No Bunker Hill boarding house history would be complete without at least one suicide. The Richelieu’s came in 1933 when Sylvia Norris, a 55 year old trained nurse, strangled herself in her room with a hose. According to her husband who found her, Mrs. Norris was despondent over ill health.

LA Times Headline

One of the Richelieu’s more interesting residents was Walter Hallowell, who resided at the hotel for at least ten years. In the 1930s, Hallowell was president of the Bunker Hill Non Partisan Voter’s League and held meetings in his room. By the 1940s, he had established his Richelieu residence as headquarters for the California Shut-In Stamp Club. The club sought donations in order to provide the state’s some 60,000 shut-ins with stamp collections.  Hallowell and the club also offered correspondence courses in short hand, as well as a complete booklet on a variety of ways to play solitaire. Hallowell hoped that the club’s efforts would “bring some pleasure to a shut-in.”

Unlike many of the Victorian structures on Bunker Hill which quickly fell into disrepair, the Richelieu was always well taken care of. In 1939, when the WPA performed a household census of the area, the Richelieu and its thirty-nine units were listed as in “good condition.” The hotel suffered a fire in 1954, but the damage appears to have been minimal.

In May of 1956, the Times reported that the interior of the Richelieu was being redecorated and modernized and “perhaps, once again will be a proud residence.” When the Times extensively covered the demolition of the Melrose a year later, the Richelieu was already gone.

All photos courtesy of the California State Library Arnold Hylen Collection.

St Angelo Hotel – 237 North Grand Avenue

 

St Angelo Hotel

The next time you take in a show at the Ahmanson Theater or the Mark Taper Forum, take a minute and think about the St Angelo Hotel. For 70 years the impressive Victorian structure dominated the corner of Grand and Temple where the Music Center now stands. From stately hotel to slum boarding house, the St Angelo represented Bunker Hill in all its glory and decline.

St Angelo in its glory days

The St. Angelo Hotel was built in 1887 by a Mrs. A.M. Smith who hoped to cash in on the big SoCal land boom of the 1880s, which brought countless migrants to the area. Like many structures built on the Hill during this period, the St Angelo was an elaborate Victorian building that the Los Angeles Times described as having “balconies with ornate woodwork and varicolored small squares of glass are in the upper parts of the windows.” As for the interior, the St. Angelo had “winding stairways which with other woodwork are of redwood” with “wide landings that are parlors on each floor.”

St Angelo

Unfortunately, Mrs. Smith’s timing was a bit off. When the St. Angelo opened, the booming 80s were winding down and the hotel did not fare as well as planned. In August 1889, the hotel was shut down by the sheriff due to an attachment on the property, but was able to reopen three months later. Mrs. Smith held onto the hotel for twelve years, waiting for prosperous times to return, but ultimately had to give up the property.

Prosperity did come to the St Angelo in the early years of the 20th Century and the hotel hosted many parties, weddings and conferences. Guests were frequently mentioned in the society pages. While the patrons of the St. Angelo may have been of a more refined type, the same could not always be said of its employees. For example, there was no love lost between Mr. Cole, the hotel cook, and Mr. Brown another hotel employee, who were known to frequently spar. One day in March of 1902, all hell broke lose and Brown and Cole chased each other around the kitchen throwing, “catsup bottles, dining-room chairs, and other utensils that came handy.” The authorities were summoned and Brown was fined $5.

In 1904, Mrs. A.M. Smith came back in the picture when she realized that she legally still retained, as the L.A. Times reported, a strip of land “seven and one half feet, extending from Grand avenue to Bunker Hill avenue and passing directly under the St. Angelo.” The property owners demanded that she hand over the deed to this strip of land, but Mrs. Smith held out for the cash settlement. She finally made a profit on the St. Angelo.

 

St Angelo Hotel by Arnold Hylen

No boarding house on Bunker Hill would be complete without a bit of death and mayhem. In 1906, Charles Malan, a Frenchman suffering from consumption and depleted funds, did himself in by sealing off all the doors and cracks of his room and turning on the gas. Then there is the sad story of Frederick Merrill, an 87 year old inventor and resident who slipped on a banana peel on Main Street and died from his injuries a couple of weeks later. Finally, in 1943 a fight broke out in the hotel’s lobby and Mrs. Mae Perry, the hotel manager, broke up the scuffle…with a gun. Rubio Ernesto, 17 and not a hotel guest was killed in the incident.

St Angelo by Arnold Hylen

By 1939, when a WPA census was conducted, the St. Angelo and its 57 units were in need of “major repairs.” As the Los Angeles Times noted, “it is an old wooden pile now proudly in decline, a genteel old building still snobbish among the smaller structures around it which were built not much later.” Despite the hotel’s shabby condition, it stood proudly on the Hill until the board of health ordered it vacated in 1956. All traces of the once grand hotel were soon erased and replaced by the Music Center which was dedicated in 1964.

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and the California State Library Digital Archive

The Touraine Apartments – 447 South Hope Street

The Touraine

In an era of spacious Victorian mansions, one could argue that the Touraine Apartments on Hope Street were 100 or so years ahead of their time. Erected in 1903 and opened in 1904, the units of this neoclassical building were designed to squeeze in a maximum number of tenants at market rates while presenting the illusion of roomy living quarters. At one point, residents were forcibly driven out in favor of higher renters. Before being demolished in the mid 1960s, the Touraine had survived a couple of fires, a colorful cast of characters, an amnesia inducing accident, and at least one suicide.


Designed by architect A.L. Haley, who was also responsible for the Higgins Building on Main Street, the Touraine’s columned facade stood three stories high, while the rear of the structure was eight stories, sloping with the natural terrain of Bunker Hill. Aimed at attracting wealthy renters, the Touraine’s elegant grand staircase lead up to a large rooftop garden and sun room. Unlike other boarding houses and mansions on the Hill which contained spacious muti-roomed residences, the Touraine’s apartments claimed to have all the functions of seven rooms squeezed into two, plus a kitchen.

 

According to the Los Angeles Examiner, the floor-plan “shows a parlor, a living room, a kitchen, a private hall, a private bath and a storage closet. Apparently there are no bedrooms or dining room.” The beds actually folded into the wall. One could be disguised as a mantle during the day, the other as a large plate glass mirror. A writing desk and bookcase were built into a door that concealed a large closet and the dining room table could be folded and hung up. The kitchen contained swinging doors with the stove attached, so that once the cooking was done, the door could be swung out into the living room and the stove used as a heater.

The building, which would have traditionally housed six or seven units contained twenty eight. The inventors of the floor plan were so impressed with their design that they patented the plan, as well as the built-in appliances. The gimmick of having the comforts of seven rooms in two was successful, and the Touraine Apartments became a fashionable residence for many wealthy patrons. Apparently, they were not wealthy enough.

The Great Touraine Siege of March 1906 began when hired landlady Estella Palmer collected rent and utility payments from all the tenants and promptly skipped town. Despite having proof of payment, part owner, F.W. Marshall demanded that the residents repay the full amount. Looking to replace the current tenants with higher paying ones, Marshall had no problem turning off the electricity, gas and telephones when the residents refused to double pay. Holding their ground, the tenants lived by candle light and hired lawyers, proclaiming to the Herald newspaper that the landlords “are only waiting the chance to cut off our heads.” When the water was cut, many residents found they could not tolerate the unsanitary conditions, caved in and moved out. For those who refused to move, Marshall took to breaking into their apartments when they were out and removing all their personal belongings. By the end of the weeklong confrontation, all the residents had been forced out. Apparently, tenants rights had not been established at the turn of the century. A local apartment building sought to capitalize on the stand-off by advertising that residents would not be “Tourained” at their establishment. Two months after the incident, the remodeled Touraine re-opened and the owners advertised in the Los Angeles Times for five straight months trying to lure wealthier renters.

 

During its six decades the Tournaine suffered two fires. The first in 1905 was caused by what the Times described as an “immense pile of rubbish in the storeroom.” The second in 1932 was started when a jilted boyfriend decided to enact revenge on his ex by setting her entire building on fire. Both blazes were minor and resulted in no injuries.

 

Like any good Bunker Hill boarding house, the Touraine had its fair share of shady dealings. In 1931, a prospective renter parked his car in front of the building while he ran inside to make lodging arrangements, only to have the auto stolen from under his nose. Dr. John Klutho provided the building with its token suicide by shooting himself in his room in 1934. A few months later, Effie Laurelle Doll sued the owners when a routine fumigation made her violently ill. The judge and jury decided they need to visit the building before making a final decision. By 1956 the Touraine’s residents were not as elite as they had once been. This was demonstrated when two tenants were arrested for knocking over a local liquor store.

But, of all the goings on at the Touraine, the most bizarre was the case of Miss Ruby Jester.

 

Ruby Jester was a Southern Bell who in August 1911 announced her engagement to local aviator and academic Sigurd Russell. Shortly after the announcement, Miss Jester, while living at the Touraine, was knocked unconscious after she fainted at the top of the grand staircase and tumbled down it. When she came to, Ruby was struck with amnesia, and claimed to have forgotten all of 1911. She believed that she was still in Atlanta, didn’t recognize her surroundings or neighbors, and, even worse, had no clue who her fiancee was! Less than a month after getting engaged to Sigurd Russell, she was indeed married…but not to Russell. Instead, she wed Jack Tilford, her childhood sweetheart whom she clearly remembered. According to the LA Times, dejected Russell “holds no ill will towards his successful rival. He wished them both all happiness.”

By 1939, the 28 efficient apartments had been divided into 56 units. By 1964 the Touraine was gone.

Top photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

The Zahn Family – 427 South Hope Street

Zahn Residence

From the time Bunker Hill started becoming a fashionable residential neighborhood in the 1880s until it fell out of fashion and started being razed in the 1950s, countless residents filtered in and out of the area. Pioneers like Beaudry and Bradbury are memorialized with their names emblazoned on street signs or buildings. Most have been forgotten. Others, like the Zahn family of Hope Street are a faded memory of the city they helped develop, but whose contributions can linger in the minds of those chasing the ghosts of Los Angeles.


Dr. Johann Carl Zahn was born in Austria in 1822 and made his way to Australia when he was in his mid 20s. A deeply religious man, the small fortune he amassed as a successful physician was donated to a mission he helped found. In 1871, Dr. Zahn and his bride, Frances, sailed to San Francisco. The couple originally planned to continue on to Chicago, but the Great Fire killed those plans and they stayed in California where Zahn again built up his bank account as a physician and his wife gave birth to three sons; Oscar, Oswald and Otto.

Zahn Residence

In 1874, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Dr. Zahn, now going by the name John instead of Johann, began purchasing real estate. By 1878, the family had added two more sons; Lorenzo Paul and Hector. Early on the family resided on Spring Street near a church Zahn had built because, according to the L.A. Times, “the denomination with which he had been accustomed to worship had no church.” In 1890 the Zahns decided to relocate to Bunker Hill and had a house built at 427 South Hope Street.

The residence on Hope Street was a large building, yet simple and elegant with far less ornamentation than a lot of the other painted ladies in the neighborhood. Behind the house was a small pasteur where horses were kept and the Zahn boys would sometimes amuse themselves by careening down the grassy hills in the area on homemade sleds. Lorenzo Paul Zahn later became friends with artist Leo Politi and recounted learning to swim at a pond at Second and Beaudry which “was formed by a brook that ran down from Echo Park.” Despite the pastoral setting of the family home, Dr. Zahn prophesied to his five sons that one day they would be able to walk from Downtown to Santa Monica on concrete sidewalks.

Zahn Residence

 

Dr. J.C. Zahn became a beloved member of the community, treating anyone in need regardless of income or social standing, and contributing to countless charities. He always supported street work in the ever growing city, even if damage was done to his property. Dr. John Carl Zahn passed away after a long illness at the age of 79 in October 1901. In his lengthy obituary, the Times pointed out that “he was never affiliated with secret organizations. His church was his lodge.” His family would continue living in the Hope Street residence for another eleven years.

LA Times Ad

While the elder Zahn kept busy with his patients, two of his sons became, of all things, expert homing pigeon trainers. The birds were trained to deliver messages to and from Catalina Island and their pigeon “Big Jim” once made the trip from the island in fifty minutes. The Zahns would frequently organize pigeon races from Santa Monica where five of Oswald’s birds once set a local record by flying in a flock and making the trip in 16 minutes 20 seconds. The brothers also bred and sold homing pigeons until technology made their usefulness obsolete.

LA Times Headline

In 1903, scandal struck the squeaky clean family when Hector Zahn was sued for “$25,000 damage for winning away the wife of Grant Burkert, a drug clerk.” Burkert and his wife had been hired by Otto Zahn to work at Rancho Angelleno near Hemet where Hector frequently resided, training race horses. While Burket was attending to his duties, Hector Zahn kept busy in the house “sparking” Mrs. Burket and would “take her driving with the speedy nags to Hemet and San Jacinto, sometimes returning late at night.” Zahn would continually coax the young woman into the barnyard and other cozy places on the ranch and talked her into filing for divorce by lavishing her with “jewelry, candy, slippers, toilet articles, perfumes and a racehorse named Bead’s Orphan.” Mr. Burket also claimed that the widow Zahn encouraged the adulterous behavior by suggesting her son and his new squeeze move into the Hope Street house, despite the objections of the rest of the family. Young Hector eventually made an honest woman out of the divorcee by eloping in Arizona.

 

Board of Library Commissioners
Mrs. Otto Zahn and the Board of Library Commissioners

Otto Zahn brought renewed respectability to the family name by marrying Frances Sproston, who had resided in Los Angeles since 1896. Frances Sproston Zahn would serve on the Board of Library Commissioners from 1914 until her death in 1944, and became the first female to be elected President of the Board in 1936.

Mrs. J.C. Zahn continued overseeing the family real estate holdings after her husband’s death, and in 1912 had the family home demolished in favor of a three story brick building which was to be called the Zahn Apartments but ended up going by the name Rubaiyat. In 1930, the building was remodeled and renamed the Wickland Apartments and in its last few years was known as the St. Leon until it was demolished around 1963.

The Zahn Brothers

By 1937, Dr. Zahn’s prophecy had come true, and the green pastures of Los Angeles had become a concrete jungle. To celebrate their father and his prediction about sidewalks stretching from Downtown to Santa Monica, the five Zahn brothers got together and walked from the Evening Herald and Express Building to the sea. It probably took them a little bit longer to make the trek than Oswald’s homing pigeons.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Court Flight – The Other Funicular

Court Flight

Even the least historically minded Angeleno probably knows about Angels Flight, the beloved funicular that graced the corner of Hill and Third for over 60 years. What many do not realize is that for 40 years, Bunker Hill residents enjoyed two incline railways in their neighborhood. Unlike Angels Flight, which has become one of the defining images of yesterday’s Downtown, Court Flight has become a footnote in the history of the city.

Dreamed up by the Observation Tower Company in 1904, Court Flight was originally envisioned as a tourist spot, more than a practical mode of transportation. The railway was built on portion of Court Street so steep it was passible only to pedestrians by stairs, and its pinnacle was believed to be the highest point Downtown until City Hall was completed in 1928. It was this bird’s eye view of the city that attracted the Observation Tower Company who intended to install a tower at the top of the funicular to make optimum use of the view.

Court Flight Early Days

Initial construction began in December 1904 with the grading of the hill and the replacement of the old wooden steps with a concrete staircase. Progress was then halted for months when Mrs. Rachel Hopperstead had an injunction issued claiming that her property at the top of the hill would be damaged by the proposed observation tower. The Company acquiesced, agreeing to forsake the tower. Construction on the incline railway was completed in October of 1905.

Court Flight by Ansel Adams

Court Flight’s base was located on Broadway and it ran approximately 180 feet up towards Hill Street, in between Temple & First Street. At a 53 percent grade, it was probably the steepest railway in the world (and possibly the shortest as well). The two cars that each carried 14 passengers were designed by a local artisan named Leo Suck and were lavishly furnished with mahogany and large French plate glass mirrors. Unlike Angels Flights, the Court Street cars ran on two separate tracks instead of one. The top of the railway was about 450 feet above sea level and photos from the 1920s reveal that the observation tower was eventually installed and provided visitors with views of Catalina Island. When it opened, a ride cost 5 cents, but books of 100 were available which cost 1 cent per trip. While it was conceived as a way to earn money from the views, Court Flight quickly became popular with Bunker Hill residents traveling to jobs located in the Civic Center and Financial District.

Court Flight Cat
From the time it opened until his death in 1933, Sam Vandergrift manned the controls of Court Flight, taking only three days off the entire time for his wedding and honeymoon. Sam liked to brag that in all the years he served as operator, not a single accident or injury ever occurred. Since the drunken teamster who fell down the bluff in 1908 was not riding the train, just standing near it, Vandergrift’s safety claim does appear to be ring true. In addition to old faithful Sam, the other mainstay of Court Flight was Tom the cat who slept in the operator’s chair at night and rode the train during the day, begging meals from customers on their way home from the market.

Post Court Flight

Sam Vandergrift had assumed ownership of the funicular early on and his widow kept it running after his death. By 1942 the railway was operating at a loss despite the steady flow of passengers and the $65 a month in rent from the sandwich shop at its base on Broadway. Additionally, Mrs. Vandergrift was having trouble finding reliable operators who had not enlisted. In January 1943, she was granted a permit to abandon operation, and after 38 years, the cars on Court Flight came to permanent halt. Subsequently, a franchise was granted to an unnamed party to start up operation, which the Board of Public Utilities tried to have terminated. In October of 1943 all issues involving Court Flight were ended when a discarded cigarette ignited the brush around the cable cars. The flames destroyed the tracks in seconds. The cars are rumored to have survived the fire and are supposedly in the possession of a collector in Woodland Hills.

Court Flight Headline

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection & USC Digital Archive

 

Bryan Mansion & Fleur-de-Lis Apartments/Capitol Hotel – 333 S. Grand Avenue

 

Bryan Mansion

For many, the tragedy of Bunker Hill was seeing Victorian structures that had survived more than half a century torn down in the blink of an eye. While many homes did survive for up to eight decades, others like the Crocker Mansion had somewhat abbreviated lives, lasting a mere thirty years or so. The E.P. Bryan residence at 333 S. Grand, however, might possibly win the award for shortest existence of a mansion on Bunker Hill.

Elden P. Bryan was a Texan who landed in Los Angeles in 1886 and made a fortune in real estate, most notably selling H.E. Huntington his first piece of property. Around 1890, the Bryan family decided to reside in the quickly developing Bunker Hill neighborhood and construction began at 333 S. Grand Avenue. A superstitious man, Bryan allegedly halted construction and altered architectural plans numerous times to suit his paranoia. The finished product was an elegant home with two sets of stairs leading up to the front door. One set was made up of fourteen steps and the other twelve, deliberately designed to avoid the unlucky number thirteen. The real estate baron and his wife, Georgie, entertained other prominent Los Angeles folk at the residence, frequently receiving coverage in the society column

E.P. Bryan

In 1904, Bryan was developing the Westmoreland Tract in the Wilshire-Pico District and construction commenced on an eighteen room home by architect Charles F Whittlesey, who incorporated his trademark reinforced concrete into the design. It is unknown if Bryan left Bunker Hill because Westmoreland was more fashionable or because he felt the Grand Ave residence to be unlucky after all. By 1906, the Bryan family had moved into their palatial new quarters and the home on Bunker Hill was gone, replaced by the Fleur-de-Lis Apartments and another house. The E.P. Bryan Residence has existed for approximately fourteen years.

Perhaps the superstitious homeowner had been onto something. In the ensuing years, many residents of the building that replaced the short lived mansion would suffer severe misfortunes.

 

LA Times

 

In 1907, John Harding was half a block away from his Grand Ave lodgings, when he was beaten within an inch of his life in a case of mistaken identity. Another resident, P.J. Sinclair, had been out of work for sometime before he decided to end it all by swallowing poison in 1938. Several days went by before his body was discovered inside the boarding house, along with the suicide note that read "I have not got the nerve or conscience to be a crook and under the present conditions it is better to die than to live." In 1932, Everett R. Todd thought jumping out the window of his room a preferable way to end it all. His reasons according to the letter he left behind were "the suffering I am causing so many people and because of nervousness." Then there was C.L. Devont, who was despondent over a failed marriage in 1934 when she shot herself in the heart . At least she was thoughtful enough to write a farewell note, leaving all her possessions to her estranged husband.

 

LA Times

It wasn’t all gloom and doom at the Fleur-de-Lis Apartments, later known as the Capitol Hotel. In 1937, residents were involved in a 1,200 person written protest, objecting to the City Council’s proposal to replace Angels Flight with an elevator. The building also held the distinguished honor of housing Los Angeles’ shortest man, Angelo Rossitto, who was two feet eleven inches tall.

By 1962, "progress" had come to Bunker Hill and the Capitol Hotel went the way of its Victorian predecessor.

 

Image of Bryan Mansion courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Brousseau Mansion – 238 South Bunker Hill Avenue

Brousseau Mansion

Many of the Bunker Hill mansions went away without much fanfare, their existence blighted by high rises and retained only in the faint memories of former residents. Others, like the Brousseau Mansion, held on long enough to be captured on canvas by the many artists who descended upon the Hill in its final years. The graceful beauty of the Victorian residence shines not only in paintings and photographs but also in the accomplishments of a couple of its most notable residents.

 

 

Located on South Bunker Hill Avenue, between Second & Third Street, the house was one of the Hill’s earliest, built around 1878 by Judge Julius Brousseau. While many early residents of the Hill found themselves tangled up in scandals involving kidnapping, adultery and suicide, according to the LA Times, “no citizen of Los Angeles had a better reputation for integrity and good citizenship than Mr. Brousseau.” The family, including two sons and two daughters resided at the stately mansion until the death of Mrs. Brousseau, around 1901, followed by the Judge in 1903. The Brousseau boys would go on to try their hands at various vocations and daughter Mabel would become a fixture of the City as a respected music teacher. Kate Brousseau, the eldest of the Judge’s children would prove to be one of Bunker Hill’s most extraordinary residents.

 

Kate Brousseau began her teaching career around the age of 20 and was at one time employed as a French instructor at the State Normal School, located where the Central Library now stands. She also gave French lessons at the family home for 75 cents per visit. In the mid 1890s she began studies at the University of Paris where she was “the only woman student in a Greek class of sixty members.” Upon her return from France, Kate would frequently translate French literature which was then published in the Los Angeles Times. She would go on to earn a PhD in psychology, serve with the French Army during WWI and assist the French Army with the rehabilitation of shell shocked soldiers after the war. Kate publish numerous books with subjects including race and education and became an internationally known psychologist, teaching the subject at Mills College from 1907-1928. Although she was born in Michigan and despite her many travels, Kate Brousseau still called Los Angeles home until her death in 1938.

Soon after the Brousseau clan vacated 238 S. Bunker Hill, the residence became a boarding house like so many others on the Hill. A one time showpiece of the neighborhood, by 1939 the twenty-one room house was broken up into 13 units. Of the many occupants who came and went during the mansion’s half century as multi-housing, the most famous was probably “the funny old man with the birds.”

Brousseau Mansion
From the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

When the Community Redevelopment Agency began its scourge of Bunker Hill, many artists and photographers descended upon the neighborhood, desperate to “preserve” the buildings before they were gone. Little did these artists know that a resident of 238 S Bunker Hill had been painting scenes of the neighborhood for years. His name was Marcel Cavalla, and by 1963 he had been a resident of the Brousseau Mansion for twenty three years. A retired pastry chef, Cavalla lived alone with his pet birds and painted to “pass the time,” using the finished products as wallpaper to keep him and the birds company. Before the house was demolished, Cavalla was “discovered” by a fellow artist and his work received a month long showing at a local art gallery. Suffering from cancer, Cavalla was able to live out his days at the Brousseau residence until his death in 1966. Leo Politi would include a portrait called “Marcel” in his 1964 tribute Bunker Hill, Los Angeles : reminiscences of bygone days.

By 1967, South Bunker Hill Avenue had been wiped off the map and the Brousseau Mansion along with it.

Brunson Mansion – 347 South Grand Avenue

 

Brunson Mansion

The demise of Bunker Hill conjures up image of bull dozers doing the bidding of the Community Redevelopment Agency, leveling the landscape of the once colorful and picturesque neighborhood. While the CRA’s master plan dealt the final blow to Bunker Hill, the demolition of victorian structures in the area had been taking place for decades. The Brunson Mansion at the corner of Fourth Street and Grand Avenue was an imposing structure that seemed destined to stand indefinitely. Instead it would last less than four decades and become an early victim of the City’s obsession with the automobile.

The residence known as the Brunson Mansion was built in the early 1880s by Judge Anson Brunson who resided on the bench of the Los Angeles County Superior Court before stepping down to serve as a lawyer for the lucrative Santa Fe Rail Road. According to the L.A. Times, the residence was “a dark red house, large, compact, dignified, in the center of sloping lawns walled up above the level of three streets.” The house was so large it had a Bunker Hill Avenue and a Grand Avenue address, before settling on 347 South Grand as its official label.

Brunson Headline

The Judge resided at the home with his wife Angela until the early 1890s when details of his torrid affair with the widow of a Civil War General came to light. In December 1892, Mrs. Brunson filed for divorce on the grounds of desertion, extreme cruelty and adultery. She was supposedly in possession of hotel registers and love letters, one of which read like “an extract from a French novel,” documenting the relationship between her 60 year old husband and Mrs. General George Stoneman, 10 years his junior. The Judge had left the Grand Ave property and taken up residence on Flower Street and Mrs. Brunson stayed in the mansion until she was forced to sell it in 1894. While Judge Brunson denied the existence of a romantic relationship between him and Mrs. Stoneman, when he died in October 1894, he left all his possessions to “my dear and faithful friend, Mary O.H. Stoneman.” Years after the mansion was long gone, locals felt that the “ghosts of unhappinesses remained there,” haunted by “the husband and wife who for years lived as strangers under the same stately roof.”

Brunson Mansion

One of the mansion’s next owners was Dr. B.F. Church, who with his wife, used part of the house as their residence where numerous social gatherings were held. The doctor converted the other part of the house into the short-lived Los Angeles Eye, Ear & Throat Hospital aka The Eye and Ear Infirmary until 1901. Eighteen years later, B.F. Church, who had suffered years of mental problems, would throw himself out of an office window at 7th and Grand, plummeting to his death in front of a lunchtime crowd.

In the early years of the new Century, the 18 room property became the Hotel Brunson. Its thirteen years as a boarding house would see little incident other than almost getting burned down by a wayward firecracker in 1904, and the shooting of a burglar by a hotel resident in 1909 (the police followed the trail of blood and apprehended the suspect at his nearby home).

 

Brunson Headline
Brunson Ad

By 1917, the automobile had come to Bunker Hill and the owners of the property at 347 South Grand decided that a two story brick garage would be more lucrative than a hotel. In April of that year, the furnishings of the Brunson Hotel were auctioned off, and stately structure which was once a “show place of the city” was demolished and replaced by an auto mechanic.

347 S Grand 1894 347 S Grand 1906 347 S Grand 1950

Three views of the Brunson Property 1894, 1906 & the garage in 1950

 

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
All quotes from the Los Angeles Times