The Salt Box – 339 South Bunker Hill Avenue

Bunker Hill Avenue was probably the most picturesque street in the neighborhood of the same name. The avenue was much more narrow than the other streets and was lined with some of the most impressive mansions on the Hill. Compared to most of its neighbors, the house that stood at 339 South Bunker Hill was farily modest and came to be affectionately known as the Salt Box. Despite being considerably less grand than the other Victorian beauties on the street, the Salt Box was saved from the wrecking ball and moved to a new location to stand as a tangible monument of the rapidly vanishing community. Unfortunately, the charming structure that stood for eighty years on its original location, only lasted a few months at its new home.

1888 & 1906 Sanborn Maps showing construction of homes, and finished products

The Salt Box was built on Lot 14, Block L of the Mott Tract, which was two doors down from a grand mansion that came to be known as the Castle. The 1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps shows the two buildings as being constructed, as well as the residence between them. Since Rueben M. Baker owned the lots, he was probably responsible for the construction of all three houses. Baker resided at the Castle until 1894 and possibly rented out the Salt Box until selling it to Ada Frances Weyse and her husband Rudolph in 1892.

The Weyses also rented out the Salt Box, which appeared to have been converted into a muti-resident boarding house as early as 1891,with rooms constantly being advertised in the classifieds. Joseph L. Murphey and his wife, Augusta, purchased the home in 1902, but it is unclear if they lived in the house or merely took over landlord duties.

In 1900, the house at 330 S Bunker Hill was home to two households. By 1910, the Salt Box had been divided up into seven separate units which housed families as well as single tenants. In 1920 there were ten units and by 1939 the house had been further divided into thirteen separate residences. Those who called the Salt Box their home came from all walks of life and included painters, nurses, waiters, and of course pensioners who could afford rents that were as little as $9.75 per month.

Compared to the shenanigans taking place at other boarding houses on Bunker Hill, the Salt Box had a rather serene existence. With the exception of resident Annie Prendergast, who was hit by a car at the corner of 4th and Grand and killed, the residents of the Salt Box lived quiet lives, until the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) came knocking.

By 1968, all of the once proud Victorians of Bunker Hill Avenue had been demolished, except for the Castle and the Salt Box. The two structures that had been constructed at the same time had been spared.  Once the CRA began pushing forward with their grand redevelopment plan in the mid-1950s, the writing was on the wall for the mansions in the neighborhood, and in an attempt to save a couple of the structures, the Salt Box was declared Historic Cultural Monument #5 in October in August 1962. Designation was soon bestowed upon the Castle which became HCM #27 in May 1964. The rest of the decade was spent trying to figure out a way to spare the two structures from the wrecking ball.

At the end of 1968, the decision was finally reached to move the Castle and Salt Box to Highland Park in an area called Heritage Square. The pair of structures were relocated to their new home in March of 1969 and awaited restoration. These grand plans for the faded beauties were never realized because in October of 1969, vandals torched both houses and eighty years of history were wiped out in a matter of minutes.

Photos 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