Sons of the Revolution—437 South Hope

landmarkThis episode, we’ll be less concerned with the reprobate, the raconteur, the religious zealot, or good folk who fell into bad judgment; instead let’s meditate on those went above and beyond the call of duty to make this country what it is, and in the most literal sense, made this country. The Bunker Hill of Israel Putnam and his bayoneted muzzleloader, not the Bunker Hill of Albert Duarte and his oversized bow. Perhaps because of the revolutionary association to the Bunker Hill appellation, and because Bunker Hill in the pre-Crash era still held some credibility and panache, it was to where the Sons of the Revolution came to have their library, 437 South Hope Street.

The Sons of the Revolution—open to those with a lineal descent from those who fought for the Patriot cause (not as hard to get into as the Society of Cincinnati, but harder to get into than the Sons of the American Revolution, which wasn’t founded til thirteen years after the Sons of the Revolution, for reasons I won’t get into here)—seeks to forever keep alive the first men to fight for our treasured traditions. And perhaps because YOU had some great great somebody at Cowan’s Ford, they keep a genealogical library so that you may do the necessary research into possible membership. Today, their 110-year-old collection has 30,000+ volumes kept open to the public, free of charge, in Glendale; but the road there has been bumpy, save for forty years of comparative calm on the Hill.

The Sons of the Revolution of California was founded in 1893, and by the turn of the century had some 5,000 volumes regarding the Revolution and Colonial America, especially in relation to the West. Its first establishment was in the offices of the Society’s first President, Col. Holdridge Ozro Collins. colCollinsCollins was a Los Angeles lawyer (who, besides organizing the California Sons of the Revolution and Society of Colonial Wars, was Mayflower Society, Colonial Governors, Society of the War of 1812, Knights Templar, and Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts) whose officers were in the Bryson Block.

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Bonebrake-Bryson Block (Joseph Cather Newsom, 1888), NW corner of Second and Spring, shown here before and after its remodel. It was further remodeled into an open pit, as its corner site is now where the 1948 Times Mirror Building stands.

The Society stayed in the Bryson Block from May of 1893 until June of 1894, when Collins moved his offices, and the library, into the brand-spanking-new Stimson Block (Carroll H. Brown, 1893), NE corner of Spring and Third.

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The Stimson Block was the first six-story building in Los Angeles, the first steel frame building in Los Angeles, and the last major example of commercial Richardsonian Romanesque in Los Angeles when it was unceremoniously demolished for a parking lot in July of 1963. (We do have a good extant Victorian Richardsonian house…and it’s also Stimson’s.)

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In any event, Collins and the library stayed at Stimson Block until it was decided that it was time for Col. Collins to get his room back, and for the library to have a place of its own.

hennerenderingSo when the Henne Building, 122 West Third, a five-story French Renaissance office building also designed by Carrol H. Brown opened in the Spring of 1897, the Society took out an office. The Henne site, west side of Third between Main and Spring, is now buried under the Ronald Reagan State Building (Welton Becket and Associates, 1990).

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But the Society kept growing, and a decade later—January, 1908—they were moving boxes into the San Fernando Building (John F. Blee, 1906), SE corner Fourth and Main.

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They started knocking out walls on the sixth floor until additional stories were added in 1912 and the Society moved into quarters specifically designed for the library. By 1914, they outgrew even that and had to take on an additional room. Making matters worse (good for the library, bad for space concerns) was that Orra Eugene Monette, aka Mr. Bank of America, Society President, (Mayflower, Colonial Wars, Huguenot Society, ad infinitum) gave a large collection to the library.OEM

Again showing their preference for new buildings, the Society turned their eye to the new Citizen’s National Bank Building (Parkinson & Bergstorm, 1914) at the NE corner of Fifth and Spring; the building is still there, but has mysteriously been stripped of its architectural embellishments. parky

And there they stayed until Nathan Wilson Stowell donated to the Society a plot of land on Bunker Hill.

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stowellhotelAs a master of pipe and irrigation, Stowell became one of the great Southland water gods; in 1889 he built the Stowell Building, AKA the Germain Bldng, at 224 S. Spring (first five-story building in Los Angeles with an electric elevator) and fans of Spring Street surely know the 1913 Stowell Hotel; he built the Mayan Theater and financed the 1924 Second Street tunnel.

When Stowell died in 1943, he was the last of the 20 charter members of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. (And although his forebear who came to Massachusettes in 1620 was named Samuel, and the rest of his mishpucha are variously named Abraham, Isaac and Israel, Nathan maintains he is a Protestant.) Despite his importance to the history of Los Angeles, or perhaps because of it, some cultural terrorist elected not to restore his name to the Stowell, which was renamed the Earle in 1950 after its acquisition by the Milner chain, and redubbed the El Dorado in 1955.

So Stowell donates the land to the Society and made a point of submitting his own plans for the building, to cost $25,000. In October 1927, they held a ceremonial groundbreaking to turn the first shovelful of earth:

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Left to right: Lansing Sayre; Rt. Rev. William Betrand Stevens, Bishop of Los Angeles; William Bowne Hunnewell (Gov., California Society of Colonial Wars. 1926-27); Philip E. P. Brine; Dr. Daniel L. Ransom; James D. Hurd; Dr. Edward M. Pallette, President; Wilson Milnor Dixon, Librarian (holding shovel); Charles B. Messenger; Orra Eugene Monnette (waving hat); Charles F. Bouldin; Dr. Egerton Crispin; unknown; Cassius Milton Jay, Secretary; Col. Harcourt Hervey, Marshal; Edward Bouton, Jr.; Dr. James D. Eaton.

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Left to right: Charles F. Bouldin; William Bowne Hunnewell (Gov., Colonial Wars); Edward M. Pallette, President, shaking the hand of Willis Milnor Dixon, Librarian; Lansing Sayre; John Emerson Marble; Orra Eugene Monnette (holding hat); Dr. Egerton Crispin; Cassius Milton Jay; Burnham Robert Creer (partially hidden); Edward Bouton, Jr.; unknown; Dr. James Demarest Eaton; and Dr. Daniel L. Ransom.

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Left to right: Mrs. Frank Pettingell; Hon. Benjamin Bledsoe (U.S. District Judge; future Society President and General President Sons of the Revolution); Dr. Egerton Crispin; Bishop William Bertrand Stevens and Dr. Edward Marshall Pallette.

Above, on November 26, 1927, Dr. Pallete officiated at and Bishop Stevens conducted the services at the laying of the cornerstone. Within the cornerstone were deposited historic documents from the Sons and Society of Colonial Wars, along with 7th century Arabic manuscripts; a Spanish silver seal from the time of Ferdinand and Isabella; a California pioneer gold dollar of 1854, and a pass through the Continental lines issued in 1871 by the Supreme Executive Council of the Pennsylvania Colony.

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The library opened to the public February 1, 1928.

They burned the mortgage in 1935:

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Left to right: unknown; Lansing Sayre; unknown; Nathan Wilson Stowell; Willis Milnor Dixon; Orra Monnette; Hon. Benjamin Bledsoe (General Registrar, General Vice President, 1934, General President, SR, 1937); W. W. Beckett; James Black Gist; E. Palmer Tucker, President (sitting); Rt. Rev. William Betrand Stevens (Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles, General Chaplain, General Society of the SR, 1940-1947); Dr. Edward M. Pallette; Egerton Crispin; unknown; and Cassius Milton Jay (Treasurer).

Now then, of the building.

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Let’s talk Stowell’s style. In the last ten months of OBH you’ve seen a lot of structures, but nothing quite like this handsome dentil’d and bequoin’d Georgian. The Federal-style flat roof behind the balustrade, and that Palladian window…what does that remind you of? Come on…

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Of course…what could be more appropriate than appropriating from Independence Hall?

Inside, what more could one ask for?

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The secretaire with broken pediment, the Ionic capitals, the Doric pilasters, the plaster medallion, the comforting keystone? One can gain an almost perfect serenity from gazing into this image (imagining the hypnotic tick-tock of an Elias Ingraham on the mantel…kept me in ataraxia all these feverish months, allowing me to postpone this post to President’s Day).

Another corner of quietude and sobriety:

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The library opened its doors to other patriotic and hereditary societies, e.g. the Society of Colonial Wars, Order of Founders and Patriots, and the Mayflower Society; of course the DAR hosted more than a few luncheon n’ lectures.

While the library naturally abjured the wild Bunker bacchanal, perhaps we should make mention that it did have some interesting neighbors (okay, so this post doesn’t get away totally scot-free when it comes to tales of queer criminality).

437/1909Though the Touraine and Santa Barbara aren’t so bad that one can conjecture Stowell’s gift had at its core his desire to divest himself of this property, it was sandwiched between the two.

437, between the Touraine and the Santa Barbara, before the 1927-8 Society building (Sanborn Map, 1906) and after (Sanborn, 1950):

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Tales of the Tourained.

sbannouncementThe Santa Barbara, to the immediate north at 433, is announced in August, 1903.

 

thecountGirls were dazzled, and the white way was brightened, with the arrival of dapper nobleman Count Jean de Marquette. His dash and vivacity made for a meteoric café career, which has come crashing down in Justice Brown’s court, December 10, 1915.

Mrs. Helen Roberts, Miss Eva Knoll, and Mrs. M. Brader, of the Santa Barbara Apartments, were three of the ladies who fell under his sway. They probably found him less dashing as they stood in court and identified various articles of jewelry, looted from their rooms in the Santa Barbara, found in de Marquette’s possession.

He also made the rounds as none other than Donald Crisp, and supported himself by writing ficticious checks as the actor/director.

Turns out that he’s just Leonell Gianini, a repeated youthful offender who’d been sent to Whittier for burglary. His folks are ranch owners with a farm out in Ocean Park Heights (renamed Mar Vista in 1924). Nevertheless, in court, he claimed the jewelry as heirlooms “from his ancient and honorable family” in France. He got five years at Folsom.

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somnabulismisgreatHerman Pfeiffer, a recent emigrant from Switzerland, was arrested in his apartment at the Santa Barbara, March 16, 1928, with mysterious tubes of green liquid and typewritten notes that read “I am a chemist and desperate. Hand over the money or there will be a tragedy.”

At his trial, Pfeiffer denied contemplating a bank robbery. “I am a somnabulist,” he explained. “On the morning in particular, I walked in my sleep and went over to the table to write this note, which was found by the detectives when they called several hours later. It was all a dream. I dreamed that I had held up a bank.” Deputy City Prosecutor Ford Q. Jack, reminding the court that in several recent hold-ups the same method had been employed, asked that to curb the dream alibi in prospective bank robbers, Pfeiffer be given the maximum sentence. Pfeiffer was then sentenced to 180 days in the City Jail to think up new uses for chemistry.

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Of course, deep within the library’s quietude, one couldn’t hear the bulldozers rumbling. Surely through the 50s they knew which way the wind blew, and it blew some silent but foul CRA halitosis through the cracks in the early 60s. By 1964 the Society was given notice, and eventually some blood money for the building and expenses incurred for moving and storage. In November 1968 the Society had moved out the last of their collection; shortly thereafter the bulldozers were deafening. The latticed windows and oak flooring and everything Independence Hall went crack and crumble.

Today, the Citigroup Tower (AC Martin Partners, 1979) sits atop the Hope Street site.

The library took everything and moved into the Granada Shoppes and Studios, where they remained until 1971. Unlike anything on Bunker Hill, the Lafayette Park area was left in blithe poverty long enough to allow this building to survive and become an HCM (read about #238 on BOL in a few weeks) and eventually National Register.

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From there they hunted around and these Colonial folk found another Colonial building…though again, Spanish Colonial. Built as the Glendale Chamber of Commerce Building in 1929, 600 South Central Avenue—all 4,300 square feet of it—proved the perfect space, especially after the Society filled it with Windsor chairs, gas lamps and (American) Colonial flags.

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Even if your lineage is more McCorkel than Mayflower, more B&O of Locust Point than Battle of Eutaw Springs, still, go to the library to check out their painting of Fremont painted from life. Too cool. It’s small library nirvana for those of us with a library fetish.


Very special thanks to President Emeritus Richard Breithaupt for his kind permission to use these images and this information. The vast majority of this post is a reworking of this page from the Library’s website. (A few of the small images are California State Library; the later view of the Stimson is an Arnold Hylen.)

Cookin’ With First Congregational

When last I peeked in on Bunker Hill’s First Congregational Church, its membership was planning a halfway house for reformed prostitutes and marching to protest Los Angeles’s crib district, a hub of semi-legal prostitution in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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Now, it’s 1907, and things have been busy for First Congregational. For starters, they moved from the Hill in the early 1900s to 841 S. Hope Street.

But more exciting, the church’s Women’s Work Society has compiled a cookbook, Our Favorite Recipes, a remarkable collection of regional period recipes. Even more exciting, it’s been digitized at Archive.org, along with a number of other Los Angeles cookbooks from the early 20th century.

Perhaps we’ll celebrate this collection with a helping of Harriet Burd’s Congregational Pudding:

 

1 cup molasses

1 cup chopped suet

1 cup cold water

3 cups graham flour

1 teaspoon soda

Flavor with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. Steam three hours in a three-pound lard bucket covered.

Or, on second thought, maybe we won’t.

“Otto Liebman Is Alive and Well Instead of Being Burned to Death”

George Roughton’s boarding house at 324 Clay Street was advertised as possessing a "most healthful locality" and "very fine view."  However, it’s unlikely that it appeared that way to tenants who were awakened at dawn on July 2, 1894 to find the place engulfed in flames.

The fire was caused by an oil stove explosion in the basement rooms of "a colored family named Phoenix," and destroyed the entire building within minutes.  Roughton was only partially insured for the loss, which was estimated at between $3000-$4000 ($76,000-$102,000 2008 USD), and most tenants lost all of their possessions.

After making their escape, the residents of 324 Clay did a head count, and discovered one among their number to be missing.  Otto Liebman was recalled by his neighbors as elderly and a semi-invalid who had lived on the third floor for only a few months.

When Liebman failed to turn up, and his remains could not be found in the ashes, a concerned neighbor reported his disappearance… two weeks after the fire.  Within a day or so, however, the mystery was solved.

In perhaps the greatest understatement ever to find its way into print, the Times reported, "Otto Liebman is alive and well instead of being burned to death."  It turns out that on the morning of the fire, Liebman woke up choking from smoke inhalation, and crawled down the stairs to safety.  As soon as he reached the street, he passed out until he was discovered by a friend, who carried him home.  Liebman remained in bed for a week, recovering from the shock.  After his recovery, the friend did him a solid and found the penniless and now homeless man work in a fruit and tobacco shop.

But as for the good neighbors at 324 Clay, not only did they fail to report his disappearance for two weeks, they also gave police an entirely inaccurate description, Liebman being neither elderly nor gray-headed as they’d reported.

The Larronde Residence – 237 N. Hope Street

 

As Bunker Hill developed from a fashionable Victorian neighborhood to an area of somewhat slummy dwellings, the grand mansions of the earlier era adapted with the times. In most cases, the large homes were converted into multi resident housing, sometimes a mere decade or two after construction. However, there are rare cases of Bunker Hill homes being inhabited by one family from the beginning to the bitter end, as was the case with the Larronde home at 237 North Hope Street.

At one time, the name Larronde was a fairly well known one in the City of Angels. Pierre Larronde was a native Frenchman who landed in San Francisco in 1847 and made a killing in the gold mines. When he relocated to Los Angeles in 1851, he amassed a further fortune by successfully raising sheep on one of the Ranchos. Always the astute businessman, Larronde cashed out his sheep empire in the late 1880s and focused his energies on real estate. His holdings included prime land at the corner of First and Spring, and a parcel on North Hope Street near Temple where he built the family home.

 

Pierre Larronde had a great deal in common with a fellow Los Angeles pioneer named Jean Etchemendy. Both men hailed from a south western region in France called the Basses-Pyrenees, both briefly lived in South America before cashing in early on the Gold Rush, and both successfully settled in Los Angles as sheep ranchers. Last but not least, both men married a gal named Juana Egurrola. Juana was born in Marquina, Spain but moved to California with her family at a very young age. She married Etchemendy in 1865 and gave birth to daughters Mariana, Madeleine and Carolina. Jean Etchemendy died in 1872 and Juana mourned for a couple of years before hooking up with the other French sheep-man in town. Juana’s 1874 union with Pierre Larronde produced three children, Pedro Domingo, John and Antoinette.

 

Larronde House on 1888 & 1950 Sanborn Map

The Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show the house on Hope Street as being under construction in 1888. The Larronde Bunch moved in shortly thereafter and held gatherings on a regular basis that made the society pages. Unlike many residences of Bunker Hill, the Larronde home suffered no scandals or controversies. Pierre the pioneer died in 1896, around the age of 70, and Juana resided on Hope Street until her death in 1920 at the ripe old age of 84.

 

Of the six Larronde/Etchemendy children, only two ventured off of Hope Street. Pedro Domingo would become a principal in the Franco American Baking Company and Antoinette married James J. Watson and had three children. John served as the head of the Fire Commission for a number of years and lived at 237 N. Hope Street until his death in 1954. The three Etchemendy girls also lived in the mansion for decades. Madeleine died shortly after her stepbrother in 1954, and Caroline and Mariana would live on for another decade.

For nearly eighty years, one family resided in the house at 237 North Hope Street. By the
end of the 1960s, all traces of the Larronde/Etchemendy clan were erased from Bunker Hill.

 

You Know, For Kids! – The Bunker Hill Playground and Recreation Center

On May 27, 1947, Proposition B, a $12 million bond issue passed, allowing the city to sink some serious dough into its woefully inadequate parks, playgrounds, and municipal pools. One of the first neighborhoods slated to get a new playground and community recreation center was Bunker Hill, with a site at the corner of 2nd and Hope, just over half an acre, selected and purchased by the City. After a November 14, 1949 groundbreaking, the $121,646 modern recreation facility was dedicated on August 21, 1950.

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In addition to grounds with a wading pool, basketball courts, and playground equipment, the nearly 9000-square foot recreation hall featured a stage for movie screenings and theatrical productions, classrooms, a kitchen, showers, and handball courts (on the roof, no less). Sure, it’s a little institutional-looking, and sure, it could do with a little less concrete, some foliage that doesn’t look so spindly and diseased, and maybe some wood chips under the monkey bars to protect tender young heads, but still, it’s a pretty spiffing playground.

And a long time coming, too. Residents of Bunker Hill had been clamoring for a neighborhood recreation area for over 25 years, lamenting the fact that children in the neighborhood lived in cramped quarters and had no place to play safely. A playground, residents said, would help alleviate the truancy, delinquency, and other youth problems in the neighborhood.

But the thing was, until 1923, Bunker Hill had a very fine recreation area for children… until the City tore it down to make way for the new Central Library.

After the Normal Hill School area was razed, Mrs. Harry White wrote to the City Council, pleading for a playground for the neighborhood’s children:

"They are not permitted to play in the streets, and as most of them live in rented houses without grounds there is no provision for any sort of recreation, or for the care of these children. Many of the parents are working people and the children are alone all day."

In the 25 years without a recreation area, kind-hearted Bunker Hill residents did their best to fill in the gaps. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Abbott of 220 S. Bunker Hill Avenue organized beach outings, holiday parties and free movies for hundreds of children in the neighborhood, while Mrs. Pearl Alcantara founded the Children’s Community Garden in a vacant lot at California and Grand, after her son was killed by a car while playing in the street. About 50 boys and girls helped her to clear the lot of trash and rocks (although some adult neighbors who weren’t keen on the idea would scatter more trash and rocks at night).

playgroundsoldDuring the 12 years that the Bunker Hill Playground served the neighborhood, its facilities were tremendously popular, and its programs well-attended. However, it wouldn’t last long. In 1962, the Department of Parks and Recreation recommended sale of the playground and recreation center to the CRA for $325,000. Within a year, the City Council would approve the sale, cash the check, and soon, the playground was just another Bunker Hill ghost.

Image from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

More of the Rossmere

TheRossmereWhen last week you read about the Second Battle of Bunker Hill, did you really think that that was all that’d happened at the noble Rossmere? The Corinthian columns! Those dentils! Don’t they just scream Dope Addict Goes Berserk?

hottrannymessDecember 28, 1918. Juvenille officers were called to a vacant lot at First and Hope where young toughs were blasting away at tin cans with their air rifles. The two collared ringleaders were on their way to the station house when one of the youngsters tucked a lock of long hair under his cap…he being Miss Juanita Stuart, fourteen, of the Rossmere. She protested tearfully when her mother was instructed by officers to burn the costume of khaki trousers, flannel shirt and boy’s sweater, and to keep the young lady attired in feminine apparel only thereafter.

July 1, 1927. William Barrett, Rossmerian, had been arrested at the hotel by officers on Volstead violations and entered into evidence was one large bottle of gin. At Barrett’s trial the prosecuting attorney sought to clinch a conviction by producing said bottle, but, like a reversed wedding at Cana, a police property room at LAPD will turn gin into water.

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Barrett went back to the Rossmere a free man, thankful to the police for working a miracle.

deriguerSeptember 23, 1949. Lloyd E. Bitters, 82, a former shoplifter by trade, decided on September 5 of this year to stop eating. The fourteen-year resident of the Rossmere simply found life “no longer worth living,” which is reasonable enough (moreover recently-assassinated Gandhi had made fasting fashionable). But Bitters was descended upon by members of the Community Chest and the Salvation Army’s Golden Agers Club, who bundled him up and trundled him off to General Hosptial for psychiatric examination.

theFallSeptember 5, 1951. Whereas the Vanderbilt had a habit of killing children, the Rossmere saved them. Elena Bravo had warned her little Martha, seven, against playing on the third floor fire escape, but Martha didn’t listen and tumbled off, only to be caught by Mrs. Max Casados’ ground-floor clothesline. The child suffered a compound arm fracture, a less lamentable situation than another hotel would have afforded.

atleastitwasntbooszeSeptember 7, 1955. Fred H. Morales, 28, delivered a benediction of blood to six of his sleeping children. And after his sprinkler-like artery-opening anointing act, he beat down a door and chased his wife—she carrying their nine-month-old baby—and her parents into the street outside the Rossmere with a butcher knife. When the cops finally arrived at First and Hope they found Morales inside, having slashed his throat with a razor blade. He was taken to the prison ward at General Hospital.

The Second Battle of Bunker Hill

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The Battle of Bunker Hill, 1775, was fought with the smoothbore flintlock musket, the odd Jäger rifle, and muzzleloading cannon of ship and field. They also fought in formation, in the open, using the linear tactic—both sides (it’s a myth that during the Revolution the reb militia hid behind rocks and trees and picked off those Redcoats standing in a row). This was a thoroughly Enlightenment style engagement. The Second Battle of Bunker Hill, waged in 1957, evidences a devolution of society; its craven assault waged with the antiquated arrow. Hardly the shower of arrows we saw at Agincourt or Thermopylae, but still.

It’s April 25, 1957, and a demolition crew is hard at work tearing down “an ancient frame dwelling” at First and Hope streets. Charles Ousley, 25, is standing in the bed of a dump truck when an arrow whistles by. He alerts John Trott, 30, crew foreman, who picks up the feathered shaft and gazes upward.

BattleofBH
The Battle of Bunker Hill, 1775, was fought with the smoothbore flintlock musket, the odd Jäger rifle, and muzzleloading cannon of ship and field. They also fought in formation, in the open, using the linear tactic—both sides (it’s a myth that during the Revolution the reb militia hid behind rocks and trees and picked off those Redcoats standing in a row). This was a thoroughly Enlightenment style engagement. The Second Battle of Bunker Hill, waged in 1957, evidences a devolution of society; its craven assault waged with the antiquated arrow. Hardly the shower of arrows we saw at Agincourt or Thermopylae, but still.

It’s April 25, 1957, and a demolition crew is hard at work tearing down “an ancient frame dwelling” at First and Hope streets. Charles Ousley, 25, is standing in the bed of a dump truck when an arrow whistles by. He alerts John Trott, 30, crew foreman, who picks up the feathered shaft and gazes upward.

In a third-floor window of the Rossmere Apartments across the street, he saw a man with a five-foot bow.
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Police pounded up to the apartment but found the archer had flown as swiftly as had his arrow. Prefiguring Oswald’s abandoned Mannlicher-Carcano, authorities recover the bow in the room.

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That corner today—the 1980 Promenade condo complex:

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“This work is dangerous enough,” said Trott, “without somebody firing arrows at my men.”

Neighbors fingered the culprit as one Albert Duarte, 20. “He got tired of hearing that racket all day,” one of them explained.

“I’m tired of these prima donnas,” grumbled Trott.

Rossmere Apartments image courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

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.

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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.

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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