The St. Regis – 237 South Flower

StKidnapSay “mother fixation” and dollars to donuts you mean, or are taken to mean, a fixation on your mother. Mrs. Emma Rupe was fixated on being a mother. So much so that on July 5, 1936, the Denver waitress took a fancy to John, the two year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. John Richard O’Brien. John, it seems, looked just like Emma’s own toddler who’d died nine years previous. On the pretext that she was going to take the little darling out to buy him a playsuit (the O’Briens being trusting souls, and near penniless, so how could they refuse?) Emma thereupon took John shopping…as far from Denver as she could get, and with as great a chance of disappearing as possible. Because clichés are born of truth, noir clichés especially, she beelined straight for Los Angeles, Bunker Hill specifically, and checked into the St. Regis.

EmmaAndSon

For ten weeks the FBI combed the States until they were tipped off by an acquaintance of Emma’s, and on September 19 the Feds descended on 237 South Flower. Emma, 30, was pulled from the St. Regis hysterical and weeping; the boy, whom she called “Jackie,” appeared impassive. Emma Rupe broke down again when a Denver jury gave her twenty to life.

StPhilbin

The 38-apartment St. Regis opens at the end of 1904.

galscheckin
Much in the way a French Renaissance building might be dubbed the Sherwood, this Missionesque structure is named after a French nobleman—J. F. Regis, tireless converter of Huguenots, and advocate of lacemaking for wayward girls.

totalbetty

 

 

The St. Regis leads a fairly quiet life. Other than the aforementioned FBI intrusion in 1936, there was the small matter of the coppers showing up to collect Elmer Hudson, 32, and his wife Betty, 20, in 1928. When two bad guys held up a café at 200 Dillon Street and made off with $300 ($3,554 USD2007), Betty made the mistake of not keeping her bad-guy self in the shadows. Café owner C. V. Anderson recognized her as a former waitress.

What is it about these wayward gals—waitresses both—that can’t keep their clutchy paws off money nor baby? Maybe they’ll learn some lacemaking in the pen. Make St. Regis proud.

 

 

 

fireforcesfleeThe early 1960s were no more kind to this little niche of the Hill than any other. The Bozwell Apartments (which seem to shoot for Greek Revival but, oddly, come off as Monterrey) next door at 245, abandoned, burn on May 22, 1962.

boznotwell

SanborneofMan

The blaze, reported the Times, was believed to have been “touched off by hobos.”

While firemen kept the conflagration from spreading to the St. Regis, its days were just as numbered as if it were the Bozwell itself.

For these were heady days: the Lesser Festivals of Abandoment, The Princial Feasts of Official Neglect, and the Commemorations of Escalating Mysterious Fires. Obligatory for the observant.

St. Regis photo courtey USC Digital Archives. Smaller images from this piece of greatness.

Zelda — 401 South Grand

SeeZelda!
Accursed rings! Hammer-mad Japanese! Arms-manufacturing Baronesses! Welcome to Zelda.

Somewhere in Los Angeles there’s a burglar who’s made off with more than he’s bargained for…a maharajah’s curse. Somebody stole into the Zelda Apartments in March of 1941 and there into the room of Mrs. F. S. Tintoff, making off with a 400 year-old ring that held two large stones, a ruby and an emerald, surrounded by small diamonds.

DeathCurse!

“It was given to me by my husband, a jeweler, who purchased it from a maharajah. The ring formerly adorned an East India princess, and was supposed to have been given a mysterious Oriental curse which would bring death to the person who stole it,” said Mrs. Tintoff. The burglar took other jewelry which with the ring had a value of $560 ($8,196 USD2007), and two other tenants in the apartment building reported similartly burgled jewelry losses to police, but nothing thereof with a curse upon’t. The Tintoff ring thus joins other bloodstained jewels of the East, like the Dehli Purple Sapphire, the stolen-from-the-Eye-of-Sita Hope Diamond and the similarly snatched Black Orlov. And that deadly ring of Valentino.

Did our housebreaker lose this cursed thing to the ages as he writhed in some forlorn torment somewhere? Were his last days exactly like this? Or perhaps the curse was purely legalistic.

What, or who, is Zelda? Zelda La Chat (née Keil) was born in 1870, arriving in Los Angeles some time in the 90s. She builds the eponymous Zelda, a modest bargeboard affair at the southwest corner of Fourth and Grand, here, about 1904:

Zelda1904

1904Zelda

steamfitting1907…which suffices only until she can fashion a thirty-nine unit brick apartment complex in 1908. She lives therein until she dies of cerebral hemorrhage in 1926; she leaves an estate valued at $300,000 ($3,521,554 USD2007).

fiveminuteswalk

ZeldaCloseUp

baronesstodustZelda wasn’t the only wealthy woman to die in the Zelda—Baroness Rosa von Zimmerman, who with her husband the Baron were second only to Krupps when to it came to weapons manufacturing for various Teutonic scraps, lived at the Zelda and died there, an alien enemy, in 1917, leaving Rosamond Castle, on fourteen acres, across from the Huntington Hotel; eleven acres in Beverly Hills; and thirty-four acres in the Palisades near Santa Monica; and about $2.5million in mortgages, bonds and securities. Nine year-old Beatrice Denton, to whom Baroness von Zimmerman was benefactress, was supposed to be a beneficiary of the estate, but the Baroness never got around to those formalities. Foundling Beatrice became once again an orphan and was likely returned to the asylum from which she was plucked.

assaultsuccessorYes, there’s never a lack of excitement at the Zelda. Take by example the May 1916 discharge of Zelda’s porter George “an erratic Japanese” Nakamoto. Having been sacked by La Chat, and replaced by one K. Kitagawa, Nakamoto saw fit to return to the Zelda to seek out his successor. There was Kitagawa, crouched low, tacking down oilcloth in a cubbyhole beneath a stairway; Nakamoto grabbed a riveting hammer and struck him repeatedly on the head, injuring his skull, and sending him to Receiving hospital in critical condition.

damestooAnd then there was the night of March 10, 1939, when vice squads in Los Angeles in Beverly Hills came down on bookmaking establishments; seventeen were arrested, including James Adams, 48; George Taylor, 24; James Roberts, 26; Mrs. Agnes Meyers, 36, and Yvonne Lucas, 21, whom Central Vice took offense to the making of book in an apartment at the Zelda. (Interestingly, across Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the pinched bookmakers more often than not had names like Murray Oxhorn and Morris Levine and Saul Abrams and Joseph Blumenthal; could our Zelda perchance have been a bit…restricted?)

Postwar Zelda was full of fun too. Joseph M. Marcelino, 21, was just another ex-Marine who worked in a box factory. When he got nabbed on October 4, 1950, while burglarizing an apartment in the Gordon at 618 West 4th, he copped to having set fire to the Zelda, aflame at that very moment. He admitted as well to torching another hotel at 322 South Spring. He was freed without bail pending a psychiatric examination. But come April, when he broke into a factory at 1013 Santa Barbara Ave. and stole company checks, which he made payable to himself and cashed, the police came knocking.
andforgeryMarcelino had also attempted to lift a safe and had lost part of his fingernail in the process—the cops found they had the perfect match.

But the winds of change blew foul in 1954. Sure, people waved their arms and preached the evils of gingerbread ornament and its relationship to tuberculosis, but when you came right down to it, The Hill impeded traffic flow. A new project, known as the 4th Street Cut, began that Summer, involving a 687-foot viaduct shooting eastward from the Harbor Freeway, carrying four lanes of one-way traffic above Figureora and Flower, then biting into the hill and passing beneath bridges at Hope and Grand before dipping down into the business district. Through the early 1950s there was much controversy over this plan—proponents of a tunnel argued that a cut would “hopelessly bisect” Bunker Hill. What they didn’t realize was that soon enough, there’d be no Bunker Hill to bisect.

whyaduck

Fourth Street, in becoming a cut, and Grand, in becoming a bridge, meant one thing: the surrounding buildings would have to go. And so they did. The Zelda was razed in August of 1954:

demotime

Seen being demo’d next to the Zelda is the Gordon at 618 West 4th (you remember, the place Marcelino was nabbed in in ’50); the Gordon, the Bronx at 624 and the La Belle at 630 West 4th were all torn down to make way for the Cut—a trio built by the sons of Dr. John C. Zahn.

All this brought a twinge of regret to Percy Howell, the veteran city appraiser who spent two years tramping the Hill, working out fair payments for displaced property owners. Howell remembered his young bachelor days on Bunker Hill back in 1909, when he moved into the Zelda, “batching it” with three other gay blades. “I never dreamed then,” said Howell, “that I would live to see the day when I condemned the Zelda for the city.”
ZeldaCornice

cometheopening

The 4th Street Cut opened May 1, 1956.

A new an improved 4th St., looking east ca. 1964, foundation excavation for the Union Bank in the foreground:

thunderkiss65

Another shot of the viaduct (I know, why-a no chicken?) ca. 1973, during erection of Security Pacific Plaza.

aerialbh

For twenty-five years after Zelda’s demolition, nothing could stem the march of progress:

unstoppable!

It has filled in now, to be fair.

4thGrandaerial

TheRoaroftheCity

And so goes Zelda La Chat, her Zelda, and 4th Street, though all we have to show for the former glory of 401 South Grand is the pointy backside of 400 South Hope.

ZeldaFromAfar

ZeldaNow

Photographs courtesy USC Digital Archive

The Marcella — 223 South Flower Street

MarcellaToday we discuss The Marcella, who once flaunted her classical order on Flower (she is Italian, please be advised the C in her name is not pronounced s as in sell, but like ch as in chin). See how her name beckons, proud but not haughty, from her entablature? She wants to take you in and protect you under that great cornice with her large corbels. Despite her imposing presence, she is warm, and welcoming; the wide porches bespeak grace, and the timberframe vernacular on the bays coo cozy by the fire lad, there’s good feelings in mortise and tenon.

But don’t speak of fire. Fire struck the Marcella in October of 1912, sending well-to-do ladies like Mrs. L. M. Harvey to Pacific Hospital after having leapt from upper stories. Other occupants hustled (stricken with panic; see below) and scantily attired into the street. Marcella owner C. F. Holland states he’s looking at $3,000 ($65,983 USD2007) in damages, $2,000 to the rugs and furniture alone.
PanicStricken
It is reported that a man was seen running from the building a few minutes before the fire broke out. The storeroom, where the fire began, was not locked. The mystery is never solved but Marcella, stout of bay and stalwart of column, cannot be burned away. She perseveres.
Cometomother

MayI?

 

 

 

The Marcella is a building so lovely she attracts only the comeliest of patrons. She is home to Miss May Long, a lass so fetching that when in May of 1913 she turned her attentions to one Earl G. Horton, he is gunned down by another suitor outside of his apartment house near Temple & Victor.

 

 

 

 

 

Jealousy over a woman causes upset again at the Marcella on October 25 of 1922 when Emergency Patrolman Claude Coffrin went to visit Mrs. Tillie Smith in her Marcella apartment. Not long after Coffrin’s ingress, there appeared Emergency Patrolman Anthony Kazokas and a civilian, Joe Cummins. Kazokas had loaned Cummins his revolver and badge to settle his romantic score with Coffrin over Tillie.

nothingbuttroubleItellya

Coffrin and Cummins fought, and Coffrin gained control of the gun; he phoned the Detective Bureau and over came officers Nickens and Ellis. Cummins at that point grabbed the gun back from Coffrin and stuck it in Nickens’ side, and Patrolman Kazokas jumped on Detective Ellis. Ellis brained Kazokas out cold with the butt of his gun, but Nickens ended up shooting Cummins through the neck.

The lovely Mrs. Smith was arrested on violation of parole; she had been sentenced on the 18th to pay $50 and spend thirty days in jail—suspended—for “social vagrancy”. Apparently, quality of young lady was beginning to decline at the Marcella.
marcellaad
Other upstanding members of society to grace the Marcella’s rooms were the Jacksons, of whom you read all about here.
TheJackson2

withliltommy

 

 

And remember Barbara Graham? What helped send Barbara to the chair was hubby Henry’s testimony on the witness stand. Her last-ditch alibi was that she and Henry were together that night of March 9, 1953—but Henry testified he had already moved out and was living with his mother…at the Marcella. (A mere two blocks down from the Lancaster, scene of Baxter Shorter’s abduction.)

Little Tommy Graham, now five, was living in the Marcella in 1957 when Wanger Pictures gave him $1000 for filming his executed mother’s life story.

 

 

Fire again struck the Marcella, this time in 1962, and this time it meant business. On March 30 a blaze razed the upper two stories of the structure. Twelve fire units quelled the blaze in half an hour; She of 223 South Flower vanished from memory soon afterward.

Here we are looking north on Flower through the intersection of Third, 1965. See the little Victorian, left center? The Marcella was just on the other side of that.
UpFlower
Today Flower Street makes a sharp turn between Third and Second to avoid the Bunker Hill Towers. The Marcella stood just on the other side of this pool:

MarcellaToday
ifeeldirty

Interesting, and, what, perhaps a little unnerving, but certainly instructive, to consider that the image that began this post, and the one immediately above, were taken from the same spot.

Top image courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library; center images courtesy William Reagh Collection, California History Section, California State Library