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

 

Hotel Northern – 420 West Second Street


Above photo borrowed from the "A Visit to Old Los Angeles" website

January 13, 1913 was opening day for the Northern Hotel, a fireproof, 10-story establishment of 200 rooms with baths, built by F.W. Braun (wealthy president of the Braun corporation, dealers in assay and chemical lab equipment) and designed by his favorite architect W.J. Saunders.

It stood on the site of the old 3-story Carling Hotel, which the thrifty Mr. Braun ordered moved to the rear of a lot on the west side of Flower Street, just south of Court Street; Saunders was also reported working on a 3-story addition to the front of the old building to give it a modern face onto Flower.

During the early days of the year long construction (estimated cost $100,000), the Northern was reported to have been leased for a period of ten years for a rental of $200,000. This prompted one L.A. Times reporter to muse "the project is of especial interest as showing the sterling value of downtown frontage north of Fourth Street, revealing as it does the confidence of a leading capitalist in this older section of the city."

But things change quickly, even on old Bunker Hill, and by opening day leasee James Kincheloe was nowhere to be seen, with management undertaken by Frank L. and Blanche L. Crampton. The Cramptons were 20 year hoteliers, formerly of Seattle and Alaska. They most recently managed the Seminole Hotel on Flower Street. Sadly, their time at the Northern rang the final bell for their concord, for on Hallowe’en Eve 1916, Blanche peered through a transom and spotted Frank in the arms of another… a lady dentist! (Maybe she was just checking his bridge.) Blanche sued for divorce, noting that she had for some time been engaging detectives to follow Frank, but that she’d finally solved the case herself. After obtaining suitable visual evidence for the divorce, spry Blanche broke out the glass in the transom and climbed down into the dentist’s room, ordered her to put on her street clothes and marched the homewrecker right out of the hotel.

Conveniently located at the intersection of Second and Clay, the Northern was a reinforced concrete structure curiously designed with Bunker Hill’s eventual demise in mind. Its foundations, you see, ran thirty feet down, to permit the addition of two extra floors of rooms should the hill ever be shaved away. Other innovations included running ice water in every room, a central vacuum system, steam heat, hydraulic elevators for passengers and freight, telephones, and a French parlor for the ladies on the fifth floor.

Entrance to the hotel was made though the Second Street lobby, a fantasia in Italian marble, bronze, mahogany and tilework. The Mission furnishings were of red leather. From Clay Street, one could reach the dining room and grill, also fitted out in the Mission style, as well as the laundry and work rooms.

The Northern was not a year old when it found its first unquiet spirit. Anna, wife of Butte, Montana capitalist Jacob Osenbrook, came to Los Angeles with her husband and son Arthur to spend Christmas in the city. She had been suffering depression for several months, and it was hoped a change of scene and altitude would ease her worries. The family had just checked into their suite, and Jacob and Anna were standing at the sixth floor window, amusing themselves by comparing the number of passing motorcars to horses. Anna was a horse fan, and exclaimed loudly whenever one entered the scene. In the midst of the conversation, Jacob went to the next room to get a glass of water. When he returned, the curtains were outside the window… and when he looked outside, he saw that Anna had joined the horses below.

By May 1919, the Northern was under new ownership, having passed from the Union Realty Company to the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Beach Company. A news report curiously describes the building as a 9-story structure, but they may not have been counting the service basements.


Above: Hotel Northern from Second and Hill, 1920, photo from the collection of the LA Public Library

In July 1920 a bizarre incident unfolded at the Northern, when two little girls from Little Rock — Laura Cash and Margaret Martin – arrived in Los Angeles and encountered a strange, ticked off lady who tossed a note addressed to Miss Martin into the room she shared with Miss Cash. It read: "Margaret Martin, it will not pay you to keep on with Levee. A word to the wise is sufficient. Mrs. Levee."


Above, Matilda Levee in repose

Baffled by this message, Miss Martin went off to take a stroll. It was then that Matilda, long estranged wife of attorney Frederick R. Levee, entered the Hotel Northern and returned to the room where she’d left the note, encountering there Miss Cash. Assuming Cash was Martin, as she had previously assumed Martin was messing with her hubby (later it was asserted that Martin’s visiting card was on Levee’s desk because his law partner knew her), Mrs. Levee brandished a cowhide whip and slashed Miss Clark five or six times across the face. Cash shrieked, of course, and her assailant fled. Where’s Eugene Corey when you need him?


Above, Matilda Levee in action

Mrs. Levee, formerly of 1001 South Union Avenue, was at the time suing her husband for divorce and maintenance, and had previously whipped at least two other women who she believed to be involved with Frederick, who had long since abandoned her. Previous victims include Mrs. Emma K. Doyle of Chicago, whipped at the Hotel Clark in December 1918, and Mrs. Inez M. Farnham, a cabaret singer from the Philippines, whipped in a hotel dining room and chased down Broadway while Frederick watched. Police quickly located Matilda in Santa Monica and held her pending civil charges which went unfiled, as the Arkansans had suffered sufficient embarrassment. (Inez never sued either.) Matilda was, however, brought up before the Lunacy Commission at the behest of Frederick, found to be "not absolutely normal, but not insane" (this is the new slogan of On Bunker Hill), and freed.

Frederick Levee meanwhile checked the wind and fled the state, abandoning his car in El Paso and continuing east by rail. He was arrested in New Orleans by agents of the Nick Harris detective agency in March 1921 and was to be returned to Los Angeles to face judge Walton J. Wood, who had just ruled in Matilda’s favor on their divorce and the $200 monthly alimony she sought, and who was not amused that Frederick had missed the court date. At this hearing, Matilda testified that they had failed to live happily as husband and wife, and that she had finally told him to "hit the ties and keep going" or she would "get" him. Previously, Frederick had protested "Why, she even shot a hole through my coat" to which the sassy Matilda snapped "Well, didn’t I buy you the coat?!" She’d also once visited him in his law office and shot him in the arm.

Somehow–maybe he told them what his home life was like?–Frederick gave the detectives the slip. By late April, the Levees were both in New Orleans, Matilda seeking to hasten Frederick’s extradition. On arrival, she discovered that he had established a law office in the Maison Blanche Building in Canal Street, and had obtained one of those sneaky Louisiana divorces without her knowledge. She fumed and stalked him.

Finally on May 7 she lurked near the St. Charles Hotel until he came out and saw her. They spoke briefly, and as he turned away she… what, do you think, whipped the heck out of him? Oh no, whips are for women. Husbands get the gun. Before hundreds of witnesses Matilda shot Frederick in the back, causing his death. Clapped in jail yelling that she had done it to save other women the pain she had suffered, Matilda pled not guilty, and later filed an injunction against Lucius H. Levy, administrator of Frederick’s estate, to stop him from disposing of any property.

In March 1922, Matilda was sent to the East Louisiana hospital for the insane at Jackson. (We reckon that they have a slightly freer definition of madness in the south than in the Southland.) Released as cured in June 1923, last reports have her seeking control of her late husband’s extensive property holdings in Texas and California.


But we are far from the Hotel Northern and Bunker Hill now, with a tale of love scorned ending up in a Louisiana madhouse. What of architect W.J. Saunders, a reinforced concrete specialist who made his name building the downtown lofts and warehouses which garnered deep fire insurance discounts for his clients? Among his notable projects were a charming Mission Style auto sales and service shop on Orange Street (1921, see drawing above), the remodeled Lynn Theater in Laguna Beach (1930, still in operation, and variously described as being French-Norman and Mayan) and a supermarket at Wilshire and Camden Drive (1933) built for screenwriter Louis D. Lighton ("Wings," "It"). Among his surviving commercial structures is the massive five-story New Method Laundry Company plant on the northeast corner of Sixth and San Julian (1910, see below), featuring rows of novel windows that began at five feet above the ground and reached to the ceiling. It still makes a striking facade, despite a wretched paint job and a couple of missing floors.

But for his most unusual structure, Saunders served as his own client. This was the "spite house," erected in 1907 at 2691 San Marino Street flush up against the property line of Saunders’ neighbor Adolph Lowinsky, orchestra leader at the Angelus Hotel. This oddity was two stories high but only one room deep, with its staircase on the outside wall and no windows on the west side.

Lowinsky sputtered that this abomination existed purely to deprive his home of any natural light on the east side, and to block the view from his porch; other homeowners shared his revulsion at the bizarre addition to their block. Saunders countered "I planned that house long before I ever knew Mr. Lowinsky. That is a flat building, and I believe it will prove lucrative!" And anyway, Lowinsky had started it by pelting the Saunders children with stones and building an unsightly wall. Lowinsky further claimed that he and his day-sleeping wife had long been tortured by the Saunders brats, who rolled past the house on the sidewalk on noisy wagons, banged tin pans under their windows and yelled "Sheeny" whenever Lowinsky mowed his lawn. Saunders complained that Lowinsky pelted his children with pebbles, cursed at his wife and finally pointed a shotgun at him and threatened to blow his brains out. These battling neighbors aired their grubby laundry in a series of newspaper articles, but seem never to have actually sued or slain each other.. no doubt much to the disappointment of you, gentle reader.

You can today walk in Saunders’ footsteps by joining his and the missus’ club, the Ruskin Art Club (founded 1888 and still active). But please be kinder to the guy next door.

The Most Beautiful Woman on Spring Street

nellie murdoch and slayer claude mathewson at Hotel Lorraine

Location: 310 Clay Street

Date: April 11, 1914

Claude Mathewson lived and died by the philosophy "The better the day, the better the deed." He’d often slip this bon mot into conversation in the basement dives of Spring Street, and if his tipsy companions didn’t know what the hell he meant in life, they got an inkling today as he lays dead.

At the time of his death Claude was joint proprietor of the Hotel Lorraine with his paramour Nellie Buck, aka Nellie Murdock, the black-haired Irish of 24 who was known as "The Most Beautiful Woman on Spring Street" — a phrase that damns as it praises, for it is a certain kind of woman who frequents the rowdy cafes of this avenue.

And Claude too was well known along Spring, as former proprietor of the Rathskellar Cafe, one-time ward politician, deputy sheriff and fireman. When Nellie came from the north on a lark and met Claude, he had already divorced once and would soon enough lose track of wife #2. He’d never taken a woman seriously before, but when he saw Nellie, he was gobsmacked. He contrived to pay for her drink with a $50 bill, and was rewarded when the lady smiled and said to her friend, "He’s some sport." Claude’s captivation became the talk of the town, as his wife filed for divorce, his bank accounts were emptied to buy dresses and wraps, and he even sold his cafe on Nellie’s whim, because she wanted to run a rooming house. He paid $5000 for the Hotel Lorraine (later to be called the Hotel Clayton) and established her there on Clay Street. But soon the police discovered the type of establishment it was and blocked new tenants from arriving, and Claude found himself short of cash.

Worse still, Nellie developed an affection of her own, and began traveling to the Vernon Country Club to dally with a cafe singer. Anxious, Claude retired to Murrietta Hot Springs to lick his wounds, and there he brooded. On his return to town, his jaw was set, and his friends could see he had made some big decision. It was hoped he would scare up some cash and redeem his cafe partnership with Walter Lips, former fire chief, but this was not his plan.

Late Thursday night, he went to the hotel to look for Nellie, and waited until she returned from Vernon. They fought, and she told him she intended to leave him, and had been saving her money to get away the very next day—Good Friday. Is that so, mused Claude. Because he too had been waiting and planning something for the morning, only his plan was to kill Nellie. He had waited fourteen days to perform this grim act on the most auspicious date. Nellie sat shocked, then ran to a friend’s room to say that Claude was mad. But she must not have taken him seriously, since she returned to her room and continued the discussion, and all night they quarreled.

nellie murdoch slaying headline at Hotel Lorraine

And when the dawn broke, Claude announced "Good Friday has come, my dear, and it is time for you to die." She screamed. He took her own gun from her desk and aimed. She hid in the closet, wrapped in silky things he’d bought for her, which were no defense against two slugs from the little lady’s .25. And after satisfying himself that she was dead Claude rolled and smoked a last cigarette, then shot himself in the head.

Nellie was buried at Rosedale, and her lover cremated after services at the Peck & Chase chapel. Mrs. Mathewson, who returned from Seattle to handle the arrangements, is at her sister’s home on West 41st Street, and will not speak of what has happened, but we think the disposition of her husband’s body says it all.

“I Am Going to Bakersfield!”

jerome hite and wife whom he shot at hotel lorraine

Location: 310 Clay Street
Date: June 19, 1910

Jerome Hite, former bookkeeper at the Woolwine Motor Car Company, is a jealous man. He drinks to excess, and likes to chase his wife with a revolver. In an attempt to prove she had been faithless, he pretended to leave on a business trip to Bakersfield, but returned to their room at the Hotel Lorraine a few hours later, saying he had forgotten a pair of shoes. But his wife was alone. He took the shoes and again "left for Bakersfield," but returned later that evening; again, nothing was amiss. Damned stubborn woman!

His behavior frightened his wife, so she went to the room of proprietress Florence Cheney to hide. Hite pounded on the door and demanded she see him, whereupon Mrs. Hite announced that she would, but only if he surrendered his weapon. He went away for a while and came back, and when he knocked Mrs. Hite opened the door and said, "Now give me your gun and we will talk." Instead he shot at her, the bullet passing through her raised arm and into her neck, where it lodged. Hite fled, and his wife, while initially thought mortally wounded, rallied at Clara Barton Hospital.

On July 7, Hite was discovered on Catalina Island, where he had obtained employment at the Metropole Hotel under the name Hal Reynolds, but was promptly dismissed for drinking on the job. He was arrested and brought to Los Angeles to stand trial, although as his wife was recovering well, it was hoped they might reconcile. But it was not to be—July 28, 1911 saw her asking for a divorce on grounds that he had been convicted of a felony (presumably her shooting) and general cruelty, and we cannot imagine there is a judge cruel enough to deny her her freedom.