Hershey Residence/Castle Towers – 350 South Grand/750 West Fourth

When the Castle and Salt Box were physically moved from Bunker Hill to Heritage Square in Highland Park, it was probably a sight most residents had never seen. However, this was not the first time a home on the Hill was relocated. Almira Hershey outdid them all in the early 1900s by not only moving her Bunker Hill home, but by also splitting it in half and transforming it into a massive and majestic apartment building.


Almira Hershey, better known as Mira, is a name that was once prominent in Los Angeles, but is now pretty much (and unfortunately) forgotten. She was a relative of Milton S. Hershey, founder of the Pennsylvania chocolate empire, and the daughter of Benjamin Hershey who amassed a fortune in the lumber and banking industries. Mira inherited a substantial sum when her father died and she relocated from Muscatine, Iowa to Los Angeles in the 1890s.

Hershey purchased real estate on Bunker Hill and commenced construction on a number of residences, including her own home at the NE corner of Fourth and Grand Avenue in 1896. The elegant structure sat across the street from the Rose Residence, and cost $5,000 to build (around $123,000 in today’s dollars).

After living at 350 South Grand for ten years, Hershey decided she needed a change. Instead of merely redecorating, she physically had the house moved to 750 W. Fourth Street and commissioned architects  C.F. Skilling and Otto H. Neher to split the residence in half and turn it into an apartment building. The renovations on the new building were completed in December of 1907 and the finished product included one and three bedroom suites complete with patented wall beds, artistic wall decorations, and interior wood finishings. Because of the structure’s resemblance to a European castle, Hershey’s new apartment building was christened the Castle Towers.

As for the prime lot on the corner of Fourth and Grand, Hershey had plans to build a hotel on the location of her former residence, and again hired Skilling & Neher. The concrete foundation had been laid by March of 1908, but plans were halted a couple of weeks later when the architects filed a lawsuit against Hershey for nonpayment of fees. The hotel was never completed, and the concrete foundation was turned into a parking lot that would remain until the neighborhood was completely redeveloped in the 1960s.

Mira Hershey did go on build her hotel called the Hershey Arms on Wilshire Boulevard. She also fell in love with the famed (and former) Hollywood Hotel, which she purchased and lived in until her death in 1930. She was so enamored with the building at the corner of Hollywood and Highland that she commissioned a replica, the Naples Hotel, be constructed in a Long Beach neighborhood.

 
The Hershey Residence at the corner of Fourth & Grand (1906 Sanborn Map)

Mira Hershey was always quick to share her wealth, but kept her philanthropic activities private after the Los Angeles Times attacked her for donating money for a hospital to be built in her hometown of Muscatine, Iowa instead of her current home city. One of Hershey’s most significant donations came after she died and her will revealed that she left $300,000 to UCLA for the construction of the school’s first on-campus dormitory. Countless students would call Hershey Hall home for decades.

The Castle Towers on West Fourth Street (1950 Sanborn Map)

As for the former residence-turned-apartment building, the Castle Towers and its residents lived a peaceful existence and until the mid-1950s when the Community Redevelopment Agency came a callin’.

Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. Postcard from the personal collection of Christina Rice.

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