Hildreth Mansion – 357 South Hope Street

Hildreth Mansion

The mansions of Bunker Hill were sometimes inhabited by colorful characters who provided the neighborhood with mayhem, madness or just plain entertainment. Others, like the Hildreth Mansion at the corner of Fourth and Hope led a peaceful, if sometimes melancholy existence, standing as the graceful pillar of a lost era until the wrecking balls came.

The residence that stood at 357 South Hope Street for over sixty years was built by Reverend Edward T. Hildreth, a Congregational minister and graduate of the Chicago Theological Seminary. Built in 1889 and designed by JC Newsom, the defining features of the Victorian Shingle style home were an ornate chimney and wrought iron circular balcony on the tower. Located at the northwest corner of the intersection, the exterior of the elevated house was finished off with a stone retaining wall and steps leading up the entrance.

Hildreth Mansion Hildreth Mansion

Happiness in the Hildreth household was short lived. In 1893, the Reverend’s youngest son Richard drowned in a nearby watering hole, and his body was brought back to the family residence after it was recovered. Edward and his wife Sarah soon made plans to donate an organ to the First Congregational Church as a memorial to their son, but instead the gift came to commemorate mother and child when Sarah suddenly died in October 1895. Reverend Hildreth never completely recovered from the double loss, and the beloved minister was cared for by his daughter Faith until he passed away at the Hope Street residence in 1907. One year later, the Reverend’s young daughter/caretaker died inside the house of an undisclosed illness.

Hildreth Headline

The mansion soon became a boarding house and stenographers, salesmen, teachers, real estate agents, carpenters, janitors, iron workers, seamstresses and many others passed through its doors. By 1939, the eighteen rooms of the house had been converted into nine residences. Boarders paid between thirteen and thirty-five dollars a month in rent and had lived in the mansion anywhere from one to twelve years. With the exception of the eighty-seven year old resident who was killed in an auto accident in 1940, the boarders of the once stately home lived a quiet existence and dried laundry on the grand wrought iron balcony.

By 1954, the Hildreth Mansion was but a beautiful memory, destroyed by the CRA’s visions of urban renewal.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Rose Mansion – 400 South Grand Avenue

Rose Mansion

Old Bunker Hill can evoke images of Victorian grander and prosperity, as well as faded glory and great loss. While many associate the history of Bunker Hill with the buildings that once decorated the landscape, the riches to rags stories of the neighborhood also belong to many of its inhabitants. The Rose Mansion at Fourth Street and Grand Avenue was once one of the most picturesque homes on the Hill and its builder and namesake a highly regarded pioneer of Los Angeles County. Despite a celebrated beginning, the house would be demolished long before the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) razed the neighborhood, and its original owner would meet his end in a most macabre manner.

Leonard John Rose (L.J.), was a native of Bavaria who immigrated to New Orleans when he was twelve. He received an education in Illinois and engaged in early business ventures in Iowa before organizing a party, including his wife Amanda and two children, to travel to California in 1857. After crossing the Colorado River, the group was attacked by a Native American tribe, incurring losses of life and supplies. Rose and his family survived and temporarily settled in New Mexico. The family made it to California in 1860 and established themselves in the San Gabriel Valley.

Sunny Slope Ranch
Sunny Slope Ranch

Sunny Slope was the name of the renowned ranch Rose acquired shortly after arriving in Southern California. Located in what is now the eastern end of Pasadena, the 1,900 acre property contained countess lemon, orange and olive trees, but became famous for its vineyards. Vines were imported from Spain, Italy and Peru, and the wine and brandy generated from Sunny Slope made L.J. Rose a household name and a very wealthy man. He also found success as a breeder with a horse ranch named Rosemead (where the city of the same name now stands), and eventually became a State Senator.

Rose Mansion

In 1887, the somewhat secluded neighborhood of Bunker Hill attracted Rose, and he purchased land at the corner of Fourth and Grand (then called Charity) to build a palatial home for his family that now included nine children. Construction on the house was such a massive undertaking that a scathing editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times criticizing the builders for piling up so much lumber in the streets that carriages could not pass through.

Designed by architects Curlett & Eissen at a cost of around $50,000 and completed in 1888, the Rose Mansion was a gleaming gem among the jewels of Bunker Hill. The L.A. Times ran a piece dedicated solely to the stained glass widows, designed by Rose’s son Guy, who would become a respected Impressionist painter. The Los Angeles Evening Express was so impressed with the stately structure that an extensive article appeared in 1890 describing the interior whose “first and second floors are finished in hard woods and the third in white cedar.” The dining room had a “heavily paneled ceiling” and a bay window with an “elaborately carved arch of oak supported by dragons.” A “heavily carved giant staircase” ran through the house and frescoes by [Attilio] Moretti of San Francisco adorned the ceilings. The home also included a plush library and music room, but the most talked about part of the house was the wine cellar where Rose stored an impressive selection of wines and spirits. On the outside, the most distinct feature of the property was the granite retaining wall surrounding the house with polished steps leading up to the entry.

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Despite his tremendous success, by 1899 bad investments had left Rose deeply in debt with properties so heavily mortgaged that selling them would have been fruitless. On May 17, a despondent Rose told his wife he was going to Ventura on business and would be returning the next day. Instead, he returned to Los Angeles that night and drafted a suicide note addressed to the his wife at the Mansion, and mailed it. At 10 o’clock the next morning, Mrs. Rose received the letter with Rose stating financial ruin as the reason for taking his own life. He continued the letter by bidding an affectionate farewell to his family.

Also included was a postscript stating that his body could be found in the backyard of the Mansion.

Family present at the time “were too overwhelmed with apprehension to go to the yard to see whether his dead body was really there.” Mrs. Rose’s son-in-law was summoned from his office Downtown and upon arrival found “his father-in-law lying face downward in a little hollow at the rear of the lot. His head reclined on his hat, and in one hand was clasped a bunch of carnations.” Miraculously, Rose was still alive and was taken to a hospital where his stomach was pumped to remove the 65 morphine pills he had swallowed. Despite the efforts to save his life, too much of the drug had been absorbed into his system and Leonard John Rose died at the age of 72. The official cause of death was morphine poisoning.

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L.J. Rose was heavily eulogized by the county he had called home for nearly 40 years and the “courageous pioneer” was laid to rest in Evergreen Cemetery. In the meantime, his wife Amanda was left with a ruined empire and the Mansion was soon lost to foreclosure. After a mere 11 years, the Roses no longer reigned over the house at Fourth and Grand.

Rose Mansion
Rose Mansion (lower right side)

The Rose Mansion was briefly occupied by real estate investor Albert W. McCready. In 1903 the residence was purchased by Colonel Albert B. Hotchkiss, creator and editor of the local publication Public Economy, with his wife Mary. Mrs. Hotchkiss , one of the few women in early Los Angeles to make a name for herself in real estate. A colorful character, Mary Hotchkiss at one time owned a large chunk of Main Street and was once accused of abducting a neighbor’s parrot named “Dude.” Colonel Hotchkiss died of natural causes inside the mansion and Mary wasted no time in landing husband #3, Dr. J.T. Jauch.

SERA Headine

The Jauches resided at the former Rose Mansion until 1928, when they took up permanent residence at the Fremont Hotel on Fourth and Olive, which Mary owned. The building appears to have remained vacant and in 1935 the State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA) proposed using the residence to house transients. The Health Commission turned this idea down.

Sanborn Map 1906 Sanborn Map 1950

Sanborn Maps in 1906 and 1950

By 1937 the Rose Mansion was supposedly in such disrepair that it was no longer inhabitable. In the biography L.J. Rose of Sunny Slope, the pioneer’s son claims that the heavy wood paneling was salvaged by 20th Century Fox and used to decorate sets on the Alice Faye/Tyrone Power feature In Old Chicago. When the CRA began its invasion of Bunker Hill in the 1950s, all that remained was the garage and the ghosts of the Rose Mansion and its owners.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

The Crocker Mansion – 300 South Olive

Crocker Mansion

At the turn of the 20th Century, no building dominated Bunker Hill like the Crocker Mansion. Perched high at the corner of Third and Olive, the imposing 3-story Victorian structure overlooked the emerging metropolis for a mere 22 years. Though its reign over Bunker Hill was short, the Crocker Mansion remains an indelible part of early Los Angeles history.

Designed by architect John Hall and erected in 1886, the ornate residence was built by Mrs. Margaret E. Crocker at a cost of $45,000 (a little over a million in today’s dollars). Margaret was the widow of Edwin Bryant Crocker, a California Supreme Court Justice, who with his brother, Charles, amassed a fortune in the railroad industry. Following her husband’s death in 1875, Mrs. Crocker became a known social and civic leader who had donated the family’s impressive art collection to the city of Sacramento. At the time she commissioned the Los Angeles residence, Mrs. Crocker owned homes in Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and New York.

Crocker Mansion View from Olive

In 1887, the mansion became the center of a scandal when Alma Ashe, Margaret Crocker’s granddaughter, was kidnapped from the residence.

LA Times Headline

Two-year-old Alma was the daughter of Amy Crocker and playboy Robert Porter Ashe, who had previously scandalized the family in 1882 by eloping. Rumored to have married Miss Crocker for the family riches, Amy soon grew weary of her groom, who spent plenty of time and money at the racetrack. The marriage soon went south and in April 1887, Ashe marched into the Crocker Mansion and marched out with his daughter, who was being watched by relatives while her mother and grandmother were out of town. Ashe and the child holed up in the St. Elmo Hotel on Main Street for a couple of days until a judge formally ordered he hand the child over to the Crockers. Ashe claimed he was protecting his daughter from her unfit mother, while Amy claimed her husband was attempting to gain leverage over her by imprisoning the child. Ultimately, grandma took Alma to live in Europe until she was old enough to decide which parent she preferred to live with. The Ashe-Crocker union was officially dissolved a few months later, and Amy (later going by Aimee) would ignore the incident altogether in her 1936 memoir …And I’d Do it Again.

Crocker Mansion view from Clay

In 1891, the Crocker Mansion became a boarding house/hotel, though far ritzier than the faded Bunker Hill boarding rooms of the 1940s/50s. Though Mrs. Crocker was no longer residing there, she still maintained ownership of the stately structure that played host to many a member of society’s elite. Even as a commercial property, rooms were always advertised as located in the “Crocker Mansion.”

LA Times Headline

Construction on the Third Street tunnel began in 1900, and Mrs. Crocker filed a petition claiming that the mansion was endangered by the street tunnel which was “unsafe, improperly constructed and a veritable death trap.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “the walls of her house are settling, the foundations giving way and the plaster is falling off…Unless something is done, the building is liable to topple into a hole.” The house never did topple and was alive and well in 1902 when Angels Flight began operating and dropping riders off practically on the Crocker doorstep.

Crocker Mansion Before the Tunnel
Before and after the Third Street Tunnel
Crocker Mansion next to tunnel and Angels Flight

Margaret Crocker died in 1901 and possession of the mansion was assumed by her children, except for hell-cat Aimee who had been left out of the will. The mansion was sold in 1905 for $50,000 along with the land that ran 120 feet on Olive and 150 feet on Third, down to Clay Street. The Crocker Mansion subsequently closed its doors as a boarding house and plans were soon drawn up to renovate the residence for use as social quarters for the Elk’s, who were putting up a new building on the eastern portion of the property. When the frame of the “old” house was deemed too weak, the Crocker Mansion was scheduled for demolition, to be replaced by a reinforced concrete structure.

The Victorian building was razed in June 1908 and the cornerstone for the Elk’s Annex was laid the following September.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

The Castle – 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue

Photo Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

The most haunting image of old Bunker Hill’s final days depicts a fenced off Victorian mansion awaiting its doom with “progress” looming in the background in the form of the Downtown’s first skyscraper, the Union Bank Building. The residence, affectionately known for years as “the Castle” and located at 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue, was one of two residences on the Hill to escape the wrecking ball, only to meet an even more tragic end.

Located on Lot 16, Block L of the Mott Tract, early owners of the property were tee-totaling Los Angeles pioneer Virginia Davis and her husband John W., who sold the land for $450 to G.D. Witherell in March of 1882. It has long been believed that the Castle was built around this time, but an 1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map reveals the structure as being constructed. In 1887 the property changed hands again, so it probably was capitalist Reuben M. Baker who built the large Victorian structure that would be a mainstay on Bunker Hill for over 70 years.

Designed in the Queen Anne style, the residence had 20 rooms, both a marble and a tile fireplace, and a three story staircase winding up the center of the house. Two of the mansion’s most recognizable features were the stained-glass front door and an overhang on the north side for carriages to pass through to the rear of the property. The curved Mansard roof on the tower and the triangular crown of a front balcony were removed after sustaining damage in the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. The original address of the home was actually 225 S. Bunker Hill Avenue until an ordinance, passed in December 1889, changed street numbering throughout the City, much to the irritation of many an Angeleno.

In March of 1894, grading contractor Daniel F. Donegan purchased the property for $10,500 and moved in with his wife Helen and four children. Though the family lived there for less than ten years, the name Donegan became the one most associated with the house and it has long been believed that the clan were the ones who nicknamed the mansion “the Castle.” A piece of neighborhood lore involved Donegan attempting to clear a nearby rat infested property by offering local children 25 cents for each cat brought to him, to be used as four footed exterminators. Residents were soon irked when their feline pets began to disappear. By 1902, the Donegans had moved, and new owner Colton Russell soon converted the mansion into a boarding house, a role the Castle would play for the next six decades.

 

The Castle in Better Days

During its 60-plus year tenure as a multi-unit residence, the Castle would play host to all walks of life of the City of Angeles. Salesmen, doctors, waiters, elevator operators, miners, firemen, tailors, printers, hotel food checkers (well maybe just one of those), and many others called the Castle home at some point in their lives. When the WPA conducted a census of the area in 1939, 325 S. Bunker Hill Avenue was comprised of fifteen separate units, including a small guest house, built in 1927. The landlord’s family resided in four rooms while the rest of the tenants occupied single rooms and shared six toilets. The majority of the occupants were single, white and over 65 years of age. Rent ranged from $10 to $15 a month and occupancy at the Castle was anywhere from six months to eight years.

What the 1939 census failed to mention, however, was the Castle’s resident ghost.

 

The spook who haunted the Castle could possibly have been a former resident who met their ultimate doom in the mansion. In 1914 Hazel Harding, a 28 year old former school teacher with a history of mental problems, lit herself on fire and jumped out a second story window. She survived the fall, but succumbed to her burns. In December 1928, 66 year Charles Merrifeld shot himself to death with a revolver in one of the rooms. Merrifeld, who committed suicide to escape the effects of poor health, had been the Castle’s landlord with his wife Bertha since 1919. The Widow Merrifeld would continue to oversee, what she advertised as, the Castle Rooms for an additional eight years following her husband’s death. According to residents interviewed for a 1965 Herald Examiner piece, for years the ghost contented himself with one type of action; “Everytime one of the sculptured wooden decorations falls off the wall, Mr. Spook catches it before it can shatter on the ground and deposits it neatly and safely on the front porch. So the crash doesn’t wake up the tenants.” Perhaps Mr. Merrifeld wasn’t quite ready to give up his duties as landlord.

 

The Castle & Salt Box Prepare to Move

In 1955, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) announced its plans to overhaul Bunker Hill, and by 1968 the only residences of the bygone era that remained were the Castle and the Salt Box, located at 339 S. Bunker Hill. Both structures were set to be demolished on October 1st of that year, but were saved in the eleventh hour when the Recreation and Parks Commission voted to let the homes reside on city owned land at Homer and Ave 43 in Highland Park. Additionally, the Department of Public Works agreed to move the structures to their new home which would become known as Heritage Square. For the Cultural Heritage Commission, the decision came after a six year battle to save the structures. Once moved, the CHC would then face the task of raising enough money to restore the age-worn buildings.

L.A. Times Headline

The Castle and Salt Box were relocated to their new home in March 1969 using $33,000 appropriated by the City Council and $10,000 from the CRA. Almost immediately the structures were invaded by vandals. On October 9, 1969 both houses were set on fire. Within minutes, the lone survivors of Bunker Hill’s Victorian era were gone forever.

All photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection