The Fremont Hotel (Part 1) – 401 South Olive Street

 

The Fremont Hotel that stood on the corner of 4th Street and Olive for five decades had 100 rooms. As previous posts on this site have shown us, no place on Bunker Hill with a lot of rooms and a long lifespan existed without a good amount mayhem. The Fremont is no exception.

The Fremont Hotel went up in 1902 and was designed by John C. Austin, who would later make a permanent mark on Los Angeles by co-creating City Hall, the Shrine Auditorium, and the Griffith Observatory. Plans for the ritzy new hotel were announced in November of 1901, and other than a brief skirmish with the neighboring Olive Street School over the erection of a retaining wall, construction went smoothly. The Mission style building opened its doors to the public in September 1902.

With so many residents floating in and out of the Fremont, it should come as no surprise that a few guests checked in and never checked out. Many residents who called the Fremont their final home were quite prominent. For example, Dr. Edwin West was a retired New York physician who settled in California when he found true love at age 79 and married his thirty-something paramour. It was the new Mrs. West who cared for the doc until he succumbed to illness in his room at the Fremont, and probably inherited his fortune. Then there was Harry Gillig, member of pioneering California family who was stricken down by a heart attack in 1909. Gillig was a onetime bridegroom of Amy Crocker, who we have heard about before. Finally, D.W. Kirkland, founded of the Owl Drug Company, lost a battle with pneumonia at the Fremont in 1915.

 

Final exits at the Fremont were not always so peaceful. The note in N.H. Cummings’ pocket indicated he was suffering from ill health, which is why the Fremont resident jumped from a rowboat into MacArthur Park lake and drowned. Financial troubles caused oilman William W. Stabler to put a bullet through his heart. His wife discovered him in the office he kept at the hotel. In 1952 when John Swiston’s horse betting system failed him, he went to Lincoln Park and slit his wrists. He survived, and was able to returned to his room at the Fremont Hotel, and probably the horse track.

It wasn’t all about death at the Fremont Hotel. There was also robbery, domestic disputes, arson, and much, much, more. After J.W. Aaron was arrested for public drunkenness in 1903, the police soon discovered that he was also the burglar who broke into Marie Kinney’s room at the Fremont and stole her opera glasses. The judge did not buy Aaron’s story that the glasses
were lent to him, and Aaron was held on $1,500 bail.

Next, we have Mr. & Mrs. Griffith, who were married in 1887 and spent the next 16 years occasionally threatening to murder each other. In May of 1903, Mr. Griffth allegedly held his wife at gunpoint in their Fremont room and the ensuing scuffle was broken up by an unannounced visit from their son. Four months later at a hotel in Santa Monica, Mr. Griffith went through with the dirty deed and shot the missus in the head. She responded by physically attacking him before jumping out an open window. Mrs. Griffith lived to tell her tale, and file for divorce. Col Griffith J. Griffith spent two years in San Quentin, having been convicted of attempted murder brought on by alcoholic insanity. Back in 1896, Griffith had donated 3,015 acres of land to the City of Los Angeles. In 1913, he set up a trust fund to construct a couple of structures on the land. The land and buildings are Griffith Park, the Griffith Observatory, and the Greek Theater.

The Fremont narrowly escaped a blaze when arsonist, George L. Gould was caught trying to set the place on fire. Police believed the 23 year old Gould to be the source of 20 fires started in the Dowtown area.

One of the more bizarre incidents at the Fremont occurred in March of 1927 when George W. Fellows was arrested for broadcasting a radio program from his room. The problem was not the content of his show, but rather the length of the waves he was using to broadcast it, which exceeded regulations. Fellows responded to the charges by fainting in court.

While the residents of the Fremont Hotel added a great deal of color to the goings on in the building, they pale in comparison to the employees. We’ll save their sordid tales for a future post…

Photo courtesy of the USC Digital Archive

The Richelieu Hotel – 142 South Grand Avenue

 

Richelieu Hotel

For nearly seventy years the Richelieu Hotel resided next door to the better known Melrose. The pair of Queen Anne Victorian buildings were two of the most stunning structures on the Hill, but the Richelieu always stood in the shadow of its counterpart. The Melrose once played host to President McKinley, was memorialized by artists like Leo Politi, and was covered by local press when the wrecking crews came. The Richelieu on the other hand, was far less celebrated but no less important, making its small mark on the history of a neighborhood that no longer exists.

Richelieu Hotel

The Richelieu Hotel was built by Richard E. Larkin and his wife Helen, and opened around 1891. Apparently the hotel was not particularly plush, for when the Larkins sold it to a Chicago business man a mere two years after it was built, the Times reported that “the purchaser will spend considerable money giving the house a thorough overhauling, and will run it as a first class hotel.” The overhaul was successful, and the Richelieu played host to society gatherings, and many local families and single residents would call the hotel home.  

LA Times HEadline

For the most part, the Richelieu maintained a relatively tranquil existence, with a bit of color thrown in here and there. In March of 1901, a bold burglar successfully struck Bunker Hill five times in one night, including the room J.F. Currier was occupying at the Richelieu. The cagey criminal was an expert lock picker who entered Currier’s room and made off with $150 in cash and a gold pocket watch without disturbing the resident’s slumber. The hotel was the victim of another burglary in 1904 when thieves entered the room of Mr. & Mrs. Bob Northam. The culprits were lucky that the Northams were out. The couple had been robbed a few months earlier and the Mrs had responded by lodging a bullet in the fleeing burglar. Of the more recent crime, Mrs. Northam expressed regrets that she was not around to take a shot at the thieves.

LA Times Headline

In May of 1949, the Times reported that a pair of detectives were investigating a narcotics lead at the Richelieu, when Ricardo Rameriez walked in on the pair. He attempted to quickly walk out, but was nabbed by the detectives who found $800 worth of heroin on him. One of the detectives spotted Rameriez’s wife waiting in a car down the street and asked her if she wanted to join her husband in jail. “Might as well,” she said and off she went. The next day, the detectives found the couple’s $36,000 smack stash at a hotel on Figueroa.

LA Times Headline

No Bunker Hill boarding house history would be complete without at least one suicide. The Richelieu’s came in 1933 when Sylvia Norris, a 55 year old trained nurse, strangled herself in her room with a hose. According to her husband who found her, Mrs. Norris was despondent over ill health.

LA Times Headline

One of the Richelieu’s more interesting residents was Walter Hallowell, who resided at the hotel for at least ten years. In the 1930s, Hallowell was president of the Bunker Hill Non Partisan Voter’s League and held meetings in his room. By the 1940s, he had established his Richelieu residence as headquarters for the California Shut-In Stamp Club. The club sought donations in order to provide the state’s some 60,000 shut-ins with stamp collections.  Hallowell and the club also offered correspondence courses in short hand, as well as a complete booklet on a variety of ways to play solitaire. Hallowell hoped that the club’s efforts would “bring some pleasure to a shut-in.”

Unlike many of the Victorian structures on Bunker Hill which quickly fell into disrepair, the Richelieu was always well taken care of. In 1939, when the WPA performed a household census of the area, the Richelieu and its thirty-nine units were listed as in “good condition.” The hotel suffered a fire in 1954, but the damage appears to have been minimal.

In May of 1956, the Times reported that the interior of the Richelieu was being redecorated and modernized and “perhaps, once again will be a proud residence.” When the Times extensively covered the demolition of the Melrose a year later, the Richelieu was already gone.

All photos courtesy of the California State Library Arnold Hylen Collection.

Hollywood Comes to The Sherwood

Bunker Hill has had many landmarks, but perhaps none so little remembered as the massive foundations lain at 431 South Grand many years ago. They were great concrete things, poured about the time of the Great Panic, or the Lesser Panic, and served as Hill touchstone and reminder of ambitious building projects halted by devious economies. But L. H. Mills and J. G. Talbott have come along and said fooey! We reject these in their totality and all they represent, and with that utterly destroyed the foundations and have, in the style of all that is great and noble of the year 1912, set out to build from the ground up the finest apartment hotel available.

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The building is 75×176’ and contains 160 rooms. Despite its vaguely
French Renaissance air, it is named the Nottinghamshire-evoking
Sherwood.

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The lobby is 50×41’, finished in mahogany, its inglenook containing a large fireplace. Each Sherwood apartment contains a private dressing room with built-in dresser and mirror. Whereas law stipulates the minimum space for apartment living rooms as 120 square feet, the Sherwood’s are 190; where the legal minimum for hallways is three feet six inches, Mills and Talbott see that theirs will be six feet across. Just because.
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In June of 1915, the Sherwood hosted the wedding of P. C. Hartigan and Peggy Hart, in the apartments of their pal, Sherwoodian Mrs. Dick Ferris, and in the company of Judge Summerfield and many a jolly Hollywood pal.
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Soon after, however, the quality of Hollywood Type there began to decline. Even in our TMZ era that abjures accomplishment and rewards reprobation, dag, that Helen Lee Worthing gave society a run for its money. And surely set Sherwood tongues a-wagging.

HLWWorthing was a statuesque Bostonian-by-way-of-Kentucky who’d become a Ziegfeld Follies girl—the toast of New York, and lady-friend of a New York mayor, it was said. Darling of the rotogravure section, it was then on to Hollywood, where she made pictures galore while at the same time gracing nightly Ziegfeld’s well-known assemblage of pulchritude.

She’d always had a tempestuous time of it…in 1922, after a Hearst paper described in detail Worthing’s New York catfight with another chorus girl—including a cartoon depicting the biting and clawing—she elected to end her life by swallowing bichloride of mercury. Ended up in Bellevue.

Once in Hollywood she made the papers in more light-hearted ways; in 1925 she drove her car off a cliff and from there atop the roof of a house in Whitley Heights.

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But her career continued to blossom; Mary Pickford called her the most beautiful woman in the world, and Harrison Fisher adjudged her the most beautiful profile in America. In 1926—the year she starred with Barrymore in Don Juan—she demanded $100,000 from a perfume company that had used her image.

But 1927 was to change all that. In April she was the victim of a violent beating, administered by an intruder, which left her with a broken nose, knocked-out tooth and discolored eyes. And five days of delirium. Her colored maid called Dr. Eugene Nelson, noted Negro physician, to see after her famous employer.

And it was love! They threw society’s strictures aside (it was still forty years before Loving v. Virginia and eighty til Seal n Heidi) and set about on a whirlwind romance that resulted in a secret Tijuana wedding in June. The fact that there was no intruder, and Nelson had to care for someone in a mad fit of drunkenness (or, more precisely, a drunken fit of madness) should have given him pause.

helooksasblackasIdoThey keep the wedding secret but is revealed to the world late in 1929, after their estrangement becomes known. His philandering, cruelty, jealously, and threats of confining her to some sort of institution are apparently too much for her.

In 1930 she returns from a New York “Neurological Institute” where she’s been treated for…the blues. She is outted by a reporter as being shacked up at the Mayfair, and she moves into an unnamed apartment-house; likely The Sherwood, as she turns up there in short order.

Divorce proceedings stretch through the early 30s: she complains that he beats her and drugs her and forces her outside wearing only her negligee; he replies that they didn’t fulfill Mexican residential requirements and, as they’re not therefore legally wed, doesn’t owe her monthly monies. By November 1932 she’s hallucinating that objects are being thrown at her, and is threatening suicide, and lands in the psychopathic ward of General Hospital. The marriage is annulled in January 1933.

In June of 1933 she disappears from an eastbound Santa Fe train—it is assumed she jumped, or fell. A three day search ensues. Turns out she just got off at Pasadena, abandoning her bags and tickets.

sherwoodarrestOn August 16, 1933, the coppers come to The Sherwood to collect Helen Lee Worthing on violation of her parole to the psychopathic department. In a statement from her psych ward bed at General Hospital, Helen declared that she had been living quietly in her apartment, attempting to increase her income by writing poetry and short stories. “I can’t understand who would complain and have me returned here,” she said. “I have only been trying to get a start on my own ability. Incidentally, I have fallen in love with a man who has been typing my poetry, but that has nothing to do with this.”

If only the story could end with her returning to the Sherwood, marrying the typist, and living long enough to move into the Bunker Hill Towers. But it was not to be.

In 1935 she is arrested on a drunk charge in Venice, and can’t come up with the $5 bail, or even the pals to post the bail for her; she spend ten days in Lincoln Heights jail.
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In September 1935 she’s living in the Big Sister League Guest Home, when she again takes poison, this time over unrequited love.
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In 1939 she’s sentenced to five months in County on a narcotics charge—passing forged morphine scrips and carrying a hypo in her purse. In 1940 she’s given a year for the same MO. (Interestingly, while in stir, going about her duties as a trusty in the woman’s ward of County, only three flights below was her ex-husband Dr. Eugene Nelson, awaiting his murder trial—not only was he practicing without a license, having lost that—but he killed a girl while aborting her fetus.)

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In October 1942 she’s popped for public drunkenness outside a downtown roominghouse; she fails to appear in court for her hearing, but sends a note: “I am leaving the State. I do not feel I can get fair treatment in California courts.” Needless to say, she does not leave the state. Radio car officers were called to the scene of her beating by some “boyfriend” in her Centennial Street apartment in April 1944, and took her to Georgia Street Receiving where she was treated for half-inch laceration on the chin and a 1+1/2 inch cut on the back of her head; she does not press charges.

uhohIn 1946 she’s found downed and dazed at Portia and Sunset, and examination fails to find injury or illness. She talks vaguely of trying to obtain rest by “self-hypnosis.” Uh-huh.

Some would see this as a red flag; others as the checkered flag…the race is over. In any event, people will sit in the stands waiting for a spectacular crash. Most of the time, the car sputters and dies. It’s just a matter of time, now.

August 25, 1948. She dies of barbiturate poisoning, in a tiny house (1062 North Serrano, since wiped out by the Hollywood Freeway) surrounded by expensive scrapbooks bulging with clippings from her golden age. Inside were penciled notes: “I can’t stand another straw—it would be too much.” Say hello next time you’re in Inglewood.

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The Sherwood is now occupied roughly by the back side of the Welton Becket’s 1981 Mellon First Business Bank, and some miniaturized version of a street called “Hope Place.”
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For anyone who may gripe that the majority of this page deals more with Hollywood than it does with Bunker Hill, believe me, brother, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of The Sherwood.

Van Fleet Apartments – 230 South Flower Street

Here was the Van Fleet, a three-story frame apartment house built in 1911 by Garrett & Bixby for citrus man Nelson Van Fleet. The 29 apartments were split between two- and three-room models, and it was in one of them on March 22, 1912, that Marie Higginson, 40-ish "and quite prepossessing," having failed to shoot herself in San Pedro last week, gassed herself in the kitchen. Her groans alerted Mrs. Francis Passmore across the hall. Found unconscious on a blanket on the kitchen floor with the oven door removed,  Marie’s purse revealed the gun and a copy of Walter Malone’s poem "Opportunity"—a popular verse among self annihilators, for Joseph N. Vincent recently blew his brains out on Silverwood Hill with the last stanzas in his pocket.

Marie, though, did not die, and on awakening, confessed that in San Pedro her hand had shaken so that she had missed her mark. "I didn’t shoot a second time because I feared I might not hit a vital spot and would die a lingering death." The cause of it all was her unhappiness with the mining man who was her companion, so she was trying to remove herself from the equation while he was away in Maricopa. Her miner returned to news that Marie was going before the lunacy commission, but we do not know how she fared there.

An L.A. Times article surveying the freakishly high cost of rents (up as much as 400% in four years) and the difficulty in finding a place that would accept children noted that a two-room apartment with a bath and kitchenette at the Van Fleet would set you back $75 a month in October 1920.

On New Years Eve 1932, 28-year-old entertainer Matthew Tormino left his apartment at the Van Fleet for a booking at the Verdugo Trout Club Lodge in Verdugo Hills. At some point while Tormino, James W. Curtis and Inez Stewart were amusing the guests, a large man became incensed and the talent made a dash for the door. Tormino was the last one out, and took a bullet to the hip. When questioned by police, all anyone could say was that the shooter was "a big guy." Tormino was expected to recover, but we suggest he work on his act.

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.

Bryan Mansion & Fleur-de-Lis Apartments/Capitol Hotel – 333 S. Grand Avenue

 

Bryan Mansion

For many, the tragedy of Bunker Hill was seeing Victorian structures that had survived more than half a century torn down in the blink of an eye. While many homes did survive for up to eight decades, others like the Crocker Mansion had somewhat abbreviated lives, lasting a mere thirty years or so. The E.P. Bryan residence at 333 S. Grand, however, might possibly win the award for shortest existence of a mansion on Bunker Hill.

Elden P. Bryan was a Texan who landed in Los Angeles in 1886 and made a fortune in real estate, most notably selling H.E. Huntington his first piece of property. Around 1890, the Bryan family decided to reside in the quickly developing Bunker Hill neighborhood and construction began at 333 S. Grand Avenue. A superstitious man, Bryan allegedly halted construction and altered architectural plans numerous times to suit his paranoia. The finished product was an elegant home with two sets of stairs leading up to the front door. One set was made up of fourteen steps and the other twelve, deliberately designed to avoid the unlucky number thirteen. The real estate baron and his wife, Georgie, entertained other prominent Los Angeles folk at the residence, frequently receiving coverage in the society column

E.P. Bryan

In 1904, Bryan was developing the Westmoreland Tract in the Wilshire-Pico District and construction commenced on an eighteen room home by architect Charles F Whittlesey, who incorporated his trademark reinforced concrete into the design. It is unknown if Bryan left Bunker Hill because Westmoreland was more fashionable or because he felt the Grand Ave residence to be unlucky after all. By 1906, the Bryan family had moved into their palatial new quarters and the home on Bunker Hill was gone, replaced by the Fleur-de-Lis Apartments and another house. The E.P. Bryan Residence has existed for approximately fourteen years.

Perhaps the superstitious homeowner had been onto something. In the ensuing years, many residents of the building that replaced the short lived mansion would suffer severe misfortunes.

 

LA Times

 

In 1907, John Harding was half a block away from his Grand Ave lodgings, when he was beaten within an inch of his life in a case of mistaken identity. Another resident, P.J. Sinclair, had been out of work for sometime before he decided to end it all by swallowing poison in 1938. Several days went by before his body was discovered inside the boarding house, along with the suicide note that read "I have not got the nerve or conscience to be a crook and under the present conditions it is better to die than to live." In 1932, Everett R. Todd thought jumping out the window of his room a preferable way to end it all. His reasons according to the letter he left behind were "the suffering I am causing so many people and because of nervousness." Then there was C.L. Devont, who was despondent over a failed marriage in 1934 when she shot herself in the heart . At least she was thoughtful enough to write a farewell note, leaving all her possessions to her estranged husband.

 

LA Times

It wasn’t all gloom and doom at the Fleur-de-Lis Apartments, later known as the Capitol Hotel. In 1937, residents were involved in a 1,200 person written protest, objecting to the City Council’s proposal to replace Angels Flight with an elevator. The building also held the distinguished honor of housing Los Angeles’ shortest man, Angelo Rossitto, who was two feet eleven inches tall.

By 1962, "progress" had come to Bunker Hill and the Capitol Hotel went the way of its Victorian predecessor.

 

Image of Bryan Mansion courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Suicide Writ Large at Clay Central

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Before the Community Redevelopment Association swung its scythe across Bunker Hill, one building tried to do itself in. This structure was by all evidence a living, cursed thing, and like the House of Usher disappearing into the tarn, it acted to remove itself from this world. Shades of the Overlook Hotel—someone or something used the old exploding boiler trick to force this assembly of apartments from its supramortal coil.

I speak of the Hotel Central, aka the Clayton Apartments, aka the Lorraine Hotel. Change the names all you want, there’s something wrong at 310 Clay Street. Kim’s numerous posts about the place attest to that.

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The spot was a trouble magnet even before the hotel’s erection. Back when 310 was a double dwelling, it attracted kerchief-weilding lady-gagging burglars.

By 1910 the Hotel Lorraine stands on the site and Jerome Hite elects to shoot his wife in the neck.

Come 1914, proprietor-of-the-place Claude Mathewson—gets, what, tired of watching the walls bleed? listening to the screaming faces jutting from the washbasin mirror?—elects to pop two new holes into his lovely wife and one into his own head.

Shortly after, in that room where try as one might the blood just never quite washes out, a real estate titan is taken down for sordidness.

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A year later, the establishment, now named the Clayton, has become a veritable den of iniquity. The new proprietor is a Mrs. Florence Cheney. According to her, the property is owned by Leon Levy, “about whom no one concerned could give any information.”

goodstart

wellpassoverthat
Mrs. Cheney shows up again as a witness in the 1916 Percy Tugwell trial; Percy robbed and murdered Senator’s-daughter Maud Kennedy, and while Mrs. Cheney asserted that Maud may have committed suicide because she was being threatened by boxer Louis “Cyclone Thompson” Astosky, her character and thus credibility were attacked mercilessly.

Leon Levy decides to get out of the 310 Clay business after changing its name again to the Hotel Central.

Things stay quiet at 310 Clay for the next couple decades or so…acts of ill fortune befall its residents elsewhere.
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In 1922, for example, Frank Macey, son of a wealthy Phoenix shoe dealer, dropped from sight for a week after staying in the Central. He ended up as a nameless bloody pulp in County Hospital, hovering in and out of consciousness, until at last identified as the prodigal Frank.

In 1923, Sander Serrano, 22 year-old graduate of USC, was playing pool at 155 East First when he was accused of jostling another player. For this he nearly lost his arm to his penknife-wielding opponent, who severed a slew of arteries and stabbed him in the throat.

A 1936 beer parlor fight at 121 South Main resulted in the stabbing of Hotel Central resident Walter Paine.

And so it goes, until the hotel could take no more, or had claimed enough souls, or something otherwise unknowable to mere man.

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Mid-day, November 27, 1953. O. B. Reeder, a 73 year-old retired printer, was bent over a table preparing Christmas gifts for mailing. Houses of Hell hating the Christmas season and all, the boiler exploded in rage, sending Reeder’s door across the room and into his back. Directly across the hall, from where resident Gus Poulas’ guardian angel had guided him elsewhere, the room was completely wrecked, all tumbled furniture and great cakes of plaster torn from the walls.

The boiler room itself was obliterated into a mass of twisted metal and piles of timber and concrete wall blocks. Plaster from walls and ceilings was concussed to floors throughout the hotel. The windows and doors in the first three floors were cracked or blown out by the explosion, which attracted a large lunchtime crowd of spectators to the Hill Street section of the Grand Central Market. (The back of the hotel towered over a Hill St. parking lot:)
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Making the incident all the eerier is owner/manager William Ogawa’s statement that while the boilers were under repair, he was certain that gas to the boiler room had been turned off when the boilers went out of order several days previous.

In any event, everything was rebuilt, doors rehung, windows reglazed. Less than a decade later the scythe swung and all that was 310 Clay was at the bottom of a landfill, the CRA accomplishing what the Lorraine/Clayton/Central couldn’t do itself.

But remember what I said about the spot being a trouble magnet even before the hotel’s erection? Is there some sort of Poltergeist-style burial-ground whatnot at work here? Flash forward a hundred years from our tale of the simple double residence.

310 Clay at lucky number 13:

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The site of 310 on the Ghost Street that is Clay:
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On that very spot. February 1, 2001. What spanner of the underworld was tossed into the heavenly works of a newly-located Angels Flight?

This is the ground zero of Clay Street. Clay Street, the street that had to be destroyed. The street whose very name—clay—symbolizes (via Nebuchadnezzar’s dream) the division of an empire, and the end of a kingdom.

Hotel Cental photographs courtesy Arnold Hylen Collection, California History Section, California State Library

Newpaper images from the Los Angeles Times 

The Dome’s Jumping Palomino

miltsavestheday

Monday, January 14, 1963

jumperlongBunker Hill’s final days, after its Official Designation as blighted slum, evokes not only decrepit dandified buildings like the Dome, but also its downtrodden denizens, shuffling along, infused with all the despair and longing and hopelessness you’d expect from folks in a blighted slum. It being Official, after all.

Victor Palomino, 29, was one such shuffler. He was another resident of the Dome, who’d actually been fine and dandy until Friday last when he was canned from his gig as a carpenter at the Civic Center project. He brooded over the wintry weekend and at mid-afternoon on a jobless Monday, thought to himself as had another of his carpenter brethren, why hast thou forsaken me? and decided to shuffle from the Dome a couple hundred feet to the northeast to the corner of First and Hope.

There stood the great steel frame of the Department of Water and Power building. Like King Kong, frustrated, recently out of a job, though trading Skyscraper Deco for Corporate Modern, Victor climbed fourteen stories of the skeleton and perched on a narrow I-beam 220 feet above the earth. Would the four children of his pregnant common-law wife Angie, 21, ever see him again? Would the seven children from his previous wife ever see him again? (Why is it residents of the Dome so like to leap?)

For three tense hours he screamed he was going to jump. Angie and his priest screamed back (presumably for him not to, not “Jump! Jump!”) but it was Milt Borik, project manager for Gust K. Newberg, who finally coaxed Victor down with the promise of his job back.

It was a ruse. After Victor came down, he didn’t go back to his home in the Dome, with is bays and spindles, its hands at two minutes to midnight, in direct aesthetic if not moral opposition to LA’s true Mulholland Fountain, no; Victor’s in Central Receiving under psych-ob, and he’ll be there for a little while.
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Goodbye, mother!

Location: 360 South Hill Street
Date: September 15, 1910

The anonymous rooming house cyanide suicide seemed calculated to deliver himself into an unmarked pauper’s grave, but a last impulse led him to pen a letter of farewell to his mother. He did not name her, but addressed the envelope with their hometown, Benkelman, Nebraska. A telegraph to the postmaster of that burg soon brought the reply: the dead man was one Judson Graves, 35, from a good family but for some time bumming broke around the west. His sorrowful mother has asked Dr. Lockwood of Pasadena to go to Pierce Brothers and claim the body, and ship it home for burial.

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