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.

 

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.

LA Times Ad

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.

LA Times Headline

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

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