The Richelieu

I picked up a nifty old photo the other day and thought what the heck, I’ll give it a quick scan and toss it on the blog, you know, just to share. Of course one thing lead to another, and here we’ve ended up with 2800 words and about as many pictures. Ladies and gentlemen, today we talk about the Richelieu, and my new theory regarding one Mister Walter Ferris…

I. Robert Larkins & the Richelieu

As mentioned, I’ve acquired an amateur scrapbook snap, from 1905 or so, which looks like this:

We know it postdates 1902, in that the Melrose Annex (Thomas J. McCarthy, 1902) can be glimpsed at left
Verso, “Richelieu Hotel, my first home. What memories that place holds for me.”

The Richelieu, 142 South Grand Avenue. The Richelieu is a bit of a mystery because unlike its neighbor-to-the-north the Melrose—built by Marc W. Connor, designed by the firm of Joseph Cather Newsom—there isn’t a lot of information about the Richelieu’s builder, and none regarding its architect. (As such, this post will be heavy on 142’s builder and possible architect; to read cool stuff about the Richelieu’s junkies and shut-ins and suicides, see Christina Rice’s piece on the Rich here.)

We begin with Robert Larkins. Robert Larkins was born in October 1842, in New York, to Harvey and Helen (née Page) Larkins, both of whom hailed from England. By 1880 Robert Larkins, now a lumber dealer, was settled in Chicago. He lived there with wife Helen (formerly Helen Dana, and I agree, it’s a bit weird he married a woman with his mother’s forename), and their children Augusta, Robert Jr., and Gracie, who are 21, 7, and 1, respectively. In the late-mid 1880s, like so many midwesterners, the Larkins clan lit out for the booming, sunny, orange-scented climes Los Angeles.

In the spring of ’88 the Larkins’ purchase a sightly lot on Grand Avenue, near Second Street, from Nathan Wilson Stowell, who sold them part of his property (Stowell’s house was on the corner of Second and Grand).

Los Angeles Times, 18 April 1888
Lot 10, Block G, then and now. (Grand is listed as Charity on the map; it was renamed Grand in February 1887)

Upon said plot, they build “one of the finest residences in the city”—

Los Angeles Times, 4 Oct 1888
The 1888 Sanborn Map has the Larkins plot indicated with “Excavation for Dwg [dwelling]”

Next door, at 130, Marc W. Connor’s famed Melrose is completed about six months later:

Los Angeles Herald, 28 February 1889
From the 1894 Sanborn Map
There’s the Melrose at left, the Larkins/Richelieu center, and just a bit of Nathan Stowell’s home, which was demolished in 1938 and replaced by a Streamline apartment house. View the entirety of this image in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles on p. 101.
The image I recently acquired shows the south face of the Richelieu; more often than not the Richelieu is seen from the north, looking south, as is the case with this image. At far right here’s a bit of Stowell’s home again. I am yet to see an actual image of Nathan Stowell’s house at 144 South Grand, and I know someone, somewhere, has one, and if I don’t see it, I will literally die. The whole of this image can be seen in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles on p. 100.
August 1941. (Off-topic and I’m still pointing out again, Nathan Stowell’s house at 144 ←this is as close as I have come to finding an image of the damn thing, so get me a photograph of this house for my birthday, ya bums, which in 1941 had recently been replaced by a Moderne apartment building.)

Oh yeah, right. So I bought an old photograph. Let’s look at the image in question.

I think it’s pretty swell. As I mentioned above, how often do you see the entirety of its south facade? The Richelieu is a superlative structure as it typifies 1888 so very well: the variegated shingle, the patterned chimney, the vast porches with all their spindlework, and those crazy ornamented gables.

Let’s pick out a couple elements to look at specifically:

First of all, looks like the wonderful carved panel was tricolor, with a dark frame and background, lighter carved foliage relief, and a much lighter “L” worked into the “RL” (for Robert Larkins). By the early 1950s it was beige and black, and mid-50s was all beige:

As seen in June 1954 and April 1957
Carved initials being an architectural element shared by the Richelieu and its neighbor the Melrose—RL for Robert Larkins and an interlocking MWC for Marc William Connor.

And look at the incredible shingle work on the roof:

Which was still extant when Hylen shot this image in the late 1940s; note as well the bicolor-painted “shields” in the dormers
The Rich got a reroofing about 1953

Also, I think this is the only image of the house with hanging plants on the porch:

I just think it’s a really nice touch

If you’re wondering what happened to this magnificent house, take a gander in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles where I pair one of my Richelieu Kodachromes with a Theodore Hall shot of it undergoing demolition in 1957:

II. Was it Always the Richelieu?

We’ve long been burdened with the nagging question, did Larkins build 142 to be the Richelieu? Or did he build it as his residence, and then it became the Richelieu? The structure is after all mentioned as his “residence” in the papers in the late 80s, and then something funny happens between 1891 and ’92:

Here we are in the City Directory, 1891. No mention in the directory of a Richelieu, just this lumber fellow living at 142
In 1892, however, it’s called the Richelieu. Note that the property is managed not by Robert A Larkins, Sr., but by twenty-year-old Junior: Robert Elmer Larkins (24 July 1872-15 June 1944)
The earliest known mention of it being called “The Richelieu,” Evening Herald, 27 December 1891.

Robert Sr. abandons Los Angeles soon after. In 1893, Helen sells the Richelieu:

Los Angeles Evening Express, 29 November 1893

On December 1, 1894 Robert Sr. marries Delia Gallup in Ionia, Michigan. In the 1900 Census he’s living with Delia in Stanton, Mich. (He dies in Stanton in 1924; she in 1939.) In 1900, Robert’s erstwhile wife, Helen Larkins, is living at 229 Soto Street with her now-married son Robert Elmer. In 1900 she lists herself in the directories by her lonesome, but by 1902 calls herself widowed. I think she did so because, well, of course you would. That is, however, unless Larkins had died; and I’m mistaking the Michigan Larkins with the Los Angeles Larkins. I doubt that, though, because what are the odds that there are two Robert Larkins, both lumber dealers, both born in New York around 1840? With no obituary for the first one?

In any event, we know the Larkins home was the Richelieu very soon after its construction, and given up by Helen Larkins not soon after that. By 1900 it was run by the Eppersons and full of boarders:

Mrs. Helen Epperson (is there some reason every woman in this era is named Helen?) manages the place, with her three kids, one Irish and two Chinese servants, and seventeen boarders, all European-American, with the notable exception of author Adachi Kinnosuke. Now I know what you’re saying, “gosh Nathan, wouldn’t a whole host of your questions about the Richelieu be answered if you looked at the 1890 census?” The answer to that being yes, yes they freakin’ would.

III. The Architect of the Richelieu (and the Melrose, and Beyond)

Whatever mysteries may exist regarding Larkins, the real source of wonder is the possible architect of the Richelieu. And I have a new theory. First of all, let’s take a look at what I wrote in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles:

Salient points being, I say the Melrose is Newsom, and attribute the Richelileu to, possibly, Bradbeer & Ferris.

Mind you, nothing said in that caption is incorrect—though yes it’s up in the air whether Larkins kept boarders/called it the Richelieu initially, or that happened about three years into the house’s life—but I have of late developed more nuanced (nuanced being a euphemism for complicated) understanding as regards calling Connor’s place Newsom, and attributing Larkins’ house to Bradbeer & Ferris.

What I’ve come to is, there’s a LOT more to be discovered about this Walter Ferris fellow.

First of all, when I say of the Richelieu “its form suggests the hand of Bradbeer and Ferris,” that’s true to a point, but, there was no “Bradbeer & Ferris” during the construction of the Richelieu in 1888. Rather, there at the time existed Brown & Bradbeer, as James Horace Bradbeer was partnered with Allen B. Brown (not Carroll Herkimer Brown, as many references incorrectly state). And at the time, Ferris was a draughtsman at Newsom & Newsom (from 1882—1890, moving with Joseph C. Newsom to Los Angeles when J. C. set up the southern branch office in 1886, and remaining with J. C. when the Newsom partnership dissolved and it became just JC Newsom, Architect in January 1888). In early 1891 Joseph Cather closed his Los Angeles office and returned north; Ferris had partnered with William Otis Merithew in August 1890. Bradbeer dissolved his partnership with Allen Brown in February 1890.

Los Angeles Times, 13 April 1890

Important to note: of Ferris, “among the buildings he has designed in this city may be mentioned the Bryson-Bonebreak block, [and] the Bradbury mansion…” Of course the Bryson-Bonebreak and Bradbury mansion are two of the best-known structures of downtown Victorian Los Angeles, and they’ve always been considered “J. C. Newsom,” which is fair, since they were born of that firm. If this is to be believed though, they are product of Walter Ferris, “the original designer” for J. C. Newsom.

Los Angeles Evening Express, 31 December 1891

A year and a half later, in another paper, quite similar statements about Ferris; it reiterates he drew the plans for traditional “Newsom” structures the Bryson-Bonebreak, Bradbury and the California Bank bldg.

But look what else, it makes note of some residences from the firm of Merithew & Ferris. First among those listed is the house of mining magnate Otto Alexander Stassforth. Which brings us to this vexating document:

Ghostie rests comfortably in his Los Angeles home courtesy of F. E. Browne’s Steel Dome Hot Air Furnace

In 1896 F. E. Browne published a book of illustrated testimonials speaking to the wonders of his line of hot air furnaces, stoves, coffee urns, lamp heaters, and the like. Many homes are depicted—each containing within a giant cast-iron Browne coal furnace, of course—along with the architects of said homes. Lots of homes by Edelman and Roehrig; institutional applications by Morgan & Walls and Eisen & Hunt.

And I call it a vexating document because some of the architect attributions—specifically, those of seven homes noted as being by “Bradbeer & Ferris”—seemed off. For example, as I mentioned above, the Stassforth residence. We know it to be Merithew & Ferris. And yet in Browne’s book:

Ergo, what we have established, is that a house on which Ferris worked, under the Merithew & Ferris umbrella, is listed as Brabeer & Ferris, when it is not.

Here’s another one:

This house, 2703 Hoover, was built by Alfred James Salisbury, a Ventura lumberman, in 1891, though he didn’t hang on to it very long, and it soon became the home of W. V. Hedges (he didn’t hang on to it long, either, as it became the Cumnock School of Oratory in 1897). Browne’s book, again, pegs a Merithew & Ferris as a Bradbeer & Ferris; heck the HCM nomination says it’s Bradbeer & Ferris, but it is most assuredly not, it’s from the firm of Merithew & Ferris (in an August 1893 mention about the newly-formed duo of Bradbeer & Ferris, the author notes specifically that Ferris had previously designed the Salisbury).

Now here’s where it gets really interesting:

Behold, the house of Henry L. Williams, president of Pacific Oil Refining and Supply. It had been built by lawyer and businessman James R. Boal in 1887. Its architect? Newsom & Newsom; it even appears in J. C. Newsom’s Artistic Buildings and Homes of Los Angeles, though it is attributed to Bradbeer & Ferris.

Note the differences between 1887 and 1896—especially the enlarged porch (which looks much like the Richelieu porch) on the south (and which removed a rather outdated Empirish mansard over the bay), and the addition of some rather “Bradbeer & Ferris” dormers to the tower

So, in Browne’s book we have a Newsom being touted as a Ferris, because Ferris had been a designer/draftsman at Newsom’s in ’87.

And now, to put us solidly back onto Bunker Hill, with our friends the Melrose and Richelieu:

Here it is. The Melrose, seven years old in 1896, being attributed to Bradbeer & Ferris. Which always bugged me something fierce. WHY would they say the Melrose was Bradbeer & Ferris? When it is correctly known as a Newsom—after all, there was that whole brouhaha about Newsom and Connor over the house in November 1889:

Then, I came to comprehend the whole thing about Ferris designing for Newsom. It stands to reason that when the Browne book was being compiled Ferris said “well of course the Melrose is mine!” Must have been easier to get his due as Newsom had moved back up north. (Maybe it irked Ferris that Bradbeer received partial credit for something he did under Newsom? Relatedly, what did Merithew think of a wholly Merithew & Ferris being billed as Bradbeer & Ferris?)

For the record, quick biographical notes about Ferris: Walter B. Ferris was born in England in August 1861 (says the 1900 census; his grave marker states he was born in 1860). He emigrated to California in 1882, and set to work with the Newsoms in San Francisco/Oakland, moving to Los Angeles with Joseph Cather in ’86 and marrying Bertha in 1888. His partnership with Bradbeer lasted until 1897. By 1900 he was living back up in Oakland. He dies in Alameda, Feb 26 1932 at the age of 71.

That then is my theory: when you see a purported Newsom—especially those examples imbued with Ferrisian touches—you may not be wrong to deem it a Ferris. What are these Ferrisian touches? Well consider the most famous Bradbeer & Ferris of all, the Wright-Mooers House. It is often held up as our typical Southern California Victorian archetype. Heck, here it is in an article about Bunker Hill, despite not being on Bunker Hill:

Los Angeles Times Sunday Home Supplement, October 22, 1961

Now ain’t that a form we’ve seen before—

Of all the Ferrisian touches, across multiple periods of employment, with Newsom, his partnership with Merithew, and partnership with Bradbeer, these kind of tower dormers are what really reek of “Ferris shorthand”

Another common element is carved panel, and, via the vagaries of connoisseurship, Junior Berenson that I am, declare these to be of the same hand:

The Bradbury mansion (bottom and top left) had carved panels of desert cactus, and California oak and orange trees; the Bradbury has been stated to be Ferris, as has the Melrose and, one wonders, the Richelieu, which utilized the same artisan

And then of course there’s the whole issue of how Newsom—Ferris?—handled porch railings—

An 1888 house Newsom did on spec at 820 West Ninth Street, and the entry of the Richelieu. L, from Artistic Buildings, R, Theodore Hall

There’s a case to be made that Walter Ferris was greater in the development of our built environment than previously believed, up to and including the Melrose and Richelieu and Bradbury, and acted as the primary driver behind his two subsequent partnerships with Merithew and Bradbeer. What I lack in proof I more than make up for in theoretical and empirical evidence, but, without proof, it’s a theory only good for this blog, but, I very much hope and trust more work will be done on the subject in the future.

And that, my friends, is my very long way of saying, look at this neat photo I found.

Larby Larb, America’s Oldest Cat, nostalgically reminiscences o’er living in the Richelieu, working feverishly in her youth to restore the Bourbon Democrats to Washington, after the corrupt regime of “that tariff-happy Harrison”


The good folk at Esotouric—who, with the rest of the world, have been huddled in the collective basement these last couple years—are back with a vengeance! There are new tours to be had, and among the first is a walking tour of Bunker Hill.

As in, sign up for the tour, meet the group next Saturday, and spend the morning (and into the afternoon) walking around, and talking about, Bunker Hill’s past, present, and future. I’m leading the tour, jabbering away for a solid three hours, so, I guarantee a good time. In all honesty I’m second banana to the native son of Bunker Hill, Mr. Gordon Pattison, who will be there to tell you how it really was.

Because I like to do things with pictures, let me go over this for you again:

1) Click here and follow the directions → *click!*

2) Meet at Grand Central Market next Saturday:

Strictly speaking we’re meeting juuust south of GCM, in fact, right where it says “Pensioners Welcome”

3) And then we go up on the Hill. Excelsior!

Here’s the group walking west on Third from Olive. Hey! Stay together!
Images via Nadel at the Getty.

And that’s it. See you there!

The Wills Mansion

Most of Bunker Hill’s lost houses are known, and beloved, for being Queen Anne. The Hill had some two-dozen first rate Queen Anne structures, famed for their asymmetrical facades and profusion of gingerbread. Bunker Hill’s “top five” (if their appearance and reappearance on those “Old LA” Facebook groups is any indication) are the Crocker, Rose, Melrose, Castle and Bradbury. What’s not to love? Look at all those towers and porches and gingerbread!

Less well known is the Wills Mansion. It’s not in the “heart” of Bunker Hill, but rather, up on its northern reaches in the Fort Moore Hill area. It was not designed with that overtly romantic character so commonly associated with Queen Anne, devoid, as it was, of turretts and spindlework—rather, it is a large Shingle style house of remarkable architecture and history, and Shingle Style gets barely a nod here in Los Angeles.

The house soon after its completion, ca. 1887. This image, from the Los Angeles Public Library, was reproduced in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles on p. 87.

Pennsylvania attorney John Alexander Wills came to Los Angeles in 1884 and built this large shingled home on the northern edge of Bunker Hill in the Fort Hill neighborhood, on a large lot bounded by Buena Vista, Rock and Fort Streets.  

Los Angeles Times, 29 April 1886
Los Angeles Times, 28 September 1886

The house was designed by Saunders & Saunders, the husband-and-wife team of Charles Willard and Mary Alston Channing Saunders. (Though Caroline Severance informs us that the architect was, specifically, very much Mary on her own.) The Saunders team are perhaps best known for Villa Miramar, the incredible 1888 Shingle-style Santa Monica resort of Senator John Percival Jones:

Villa Miramar from Ocean Avenue. It was demolished in 1938. Wikimedia
East facade of Villa Miramar, from Nevada Ave., now Wilshire Blvd. Huntington

Watters points out in his indispensable Houses of Los Angeles 1885-1919 that Mary Saunders, raised and trained in Rhode Island, had as her inspiration Robert Goelet’s Newport cottage (McKim, Mead & White, 1883), and that Miramar’s wide gable on the east facade was likely derived from Newport’s William Watts Sherman house (H. H. Richardson, 1875).

Charles and Mary Saunders’ house, on Walnut in Pasadena, was another Shingle wonder:

Mary Channing Saunders, architect. Now the site of a Honda dealership. Huntington

Had the Wills house survived, it would have been among the very few Shingles in our part of the world. Those that do exist are usually in the rarefied climes around Pasadena, like the McNally house in Altadena, and William Stanton’s Grace Hill, both designed by Frederick Roehrig.

The east facade of the Wills’, looking south across the south/east lawn, with the Baker house across Fort Moore Place in the distance. This image is cropped from a boudoir card, part of the “Gardens of Los Angeles at Midwinter” series published by James B. Blanchard & Co. about 1895. Reproduced in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles on p. 159.

So: Dr. John Wills, wife Charlotte, son William LeMoyne Wills and daughter Madeleine Frances moved into their vast manse, with its commanding view above the Plaza, in October 1886. The Wills family helped establish the Cremation Society of Southern California, and built the first crematory west of the Mississippi, in Rosedale Cemetery, in 1887. John Wills died in 1894 and the 1900 Federal Census shows Charlotte, William L. and Madeline F. living there with their four servants. 

After the death of patriarch John, the house went to Charlotte, who put it in trust to the two children. There was some squabbling, and a court case, so Charlotte dissolved the trust in 1903 and gifted the house to Madeline Frances, best known as “Fanny.”

Unlike many of the grand homes of the 1880s, the Wills house was never converted to apartments—in the 1920s the society pages made note of Fanny Wills’s lavish mahjong parties, complete with Chinese girls in authentic dress. Miss Wills was a famed suffragist; Susan B. Anthony was a noted house-guest.

Fanny Wills continued to live in the house until it was doomed by progress. The early 1930s saw North Spring Street extended as part of the Civic Center expansion, which cut much of the eastern edge of the hill. As the shovels dug they neared closer to the Wills house, called “one of the loveliest mansions ever built in Los Angeles” by the Los Angeles Times.

Fanny Wills took the County to court over the valuation of her property; experts testified her house and three lots were worth $275,000 ($4,189,254 USD 2018). The County gave her $165,000 ($2,513,552 USD 2018), condemned the property, and removed the social queen from her home in December 1930.

Los Angeles Times, 23 March 1930
Times, 23 March 1930

Before we go any further, we must answer the question, where was this house, anyway? It was on the corner of Rock Street, which would become Fort Moore Place, and Fort Street, which would become Broadway:

The 1894 Sanborn map
Castelar has become Hill Street, and Bellevue has become Cesar Chavez, and Spring St, which once stopped at Temple, was cut through, taking over New High and taking out Buena Vista. Anyway, red arrow says it was riiiiight about here. Only, now it would be floating way up in the air.

Now, through the magic of aero-plane photography, let’s look at exactly how the poor house got eaten away at before its ignominious end.

January 1, 1929. Compare to the Sanborn two images above. New High at very bottom, and notice how Buena Vista actually peters out to become a dirt road leading to Bellevue/Sunset.
Notice how one ascends the majestic, Canary Island Date Palm-lined driveway up from the corner of Buena Vista and Rock Streets. The actual address of the house was 101 Buena Vista; this number was changed to 501 N Buena Vista with the Los Angeles street-renumbering ordinance of 1889; it thereafter became 501 Justicia Street when the street was renamed
January 29, 1934: Spring Street barrels through where Buena Vista used to be. The skinny street with the bend, bottom, is what remains of New High. The County did quite a job of defoliating the Wills’ yard.

August 14, 1941: and then it was gone. New HIgh, bottom, wiped out and Spring Street was made an overpass, a decade later when the Hollywood Freeway cut through. This and other aerials, above, from the UCSB Air Photos collection

So what happened to her? Progress! Spring Street must be straightened! The corner of Spring and Sunset was slated for a County office building. The dirt was needed as fill for the forthcoming Union Station.

19 April 1934
Times, 11 December 1930
1 April 1934
1 April 1934
1 April 1934
The south facade, shot from the Milo Baker house, 1934
A similar shot of the south facade as seen from a Baker house veranda. LAPL

The real reason I wanted to do a post on the Wills mansion is because, well, I picked up some nifty negatives of the east façade, shot in April 1934, and they allow us to peer nice and close at some of the details.

The arrow indicates our photographer’s position. Now, you see that x-marks-the-spot up there? This aerial has captured the 1934 mining operation, in search of the lost gold of the Lizard People. The mining tower can be seen in the distance, here:

The tale of the Lizard People is covered, of course, in Bunker Noir!get yours today!

Some more tidbits:

Nifty detailing in that gable, and check out the eyebrow window—which you’ll note Mary also used to similar effect in her Pasadena house pictured above
Great leaded glass window, which we presume utilized stained glass, but it’s hard to tell
Leaded glass on the front door, too
The view from that balcony would be incredible—east over the Plaza, the burgeoning city and mountains beyond. Note the way the staggered shingle blends into the straight-edge shingle. And the color differentiation between those and the shingle above!

Looking south on Spring Street from Sunset:

Spring St has gone through, though the hillside east of the Broadway tunnel remains…for now. UCLA

And what’s that lurking o’er? It’s the Wills house! The rarely seen north side! Signs and wonders!

An image of the west façade alludes us still, of course. The giant sign in the background, btw, was a block south above the entrance of the Broadway tunnel
And, the only known image of its north AND west façade! Denver PL
And, just to give you an idea how it towered over the Plaza—
Two eyebrow dormers…makes the balcony between them sort of a third eyeUCLA


After this post went live, I got to thinking about poor old Madeleine Frances “Fanny” Wills. Aged, white of hair, shuffled off to her slow descent into senility and madness. Somewhere…out in the country. Somewhere mysterious, alone, with no-one to know where she’d gone. That’s how the papers made it seem, and that is, after all, what she said:

The country? Like…San Bernardino?

Only, that’s not what happened at all. Age 73 when her property was condemned and she was evicted, and she pulled up stakes and moved off the hill and into the void, Madeline Frances Wills was replete with pep and vinegar. First thing she did when they kicked her out in 1930 was say screw it, I’m going to Hawaii! (She departed Wilmington on January 11, 1930 and returned March 4—what I wouldn’t give to see shots of her wearing a lei beneath the Aloha Tower.)

Then, on her return, she purchased a house at 1075 Rose Avenue, San Marino. According to the 1940 census, which lists home values, the houses in the neighborhood ran in the $4,000-$7,000 range; Fanny’s was valued at $25,000. (The numbers on Rose jump from the 700 block to the 2000 block abruptly, so I’m having trouble finding the house, but, working on it.) 1075 was an enchanted place and, we should note, said Eden was not completely manless:

Times, 10 April 1934

Before her passing in August 1940, Fanny was in the papers continuously both here and up north, visiting her sistren in the League of Women Voters and hosting events at her picturesque San Marino home:

Holy cats, Carrie Chapman Catt and Esther Caukin Brunauer

Fanny passes August 18, 1940:

And, through the fall of 1940, many papers carried the story about how somewhere—”out there”—was a lucky fellow who would collect $250 ($5,220 USD2022) a month from Fanny’s will—

Should once conclude this George Baird is the “George Baer” she took in, in 1934?

Until finally, in mid-November, the real George Baird stood up:

Fanny is cremated (as we might imagine, given her family’s history vis-à-vis cremation) and her remains are also somewhere “out there” and thus we are unable to visit her. (Unlike her brother William, another San Marinoan, who’s at San Gabriel cemetery—and who was married to Susan Glassell Patton, whose mother was Susan Thornton Glassell Smith, whose husband George Hugh Smith built an incredible house three doors down Broadway from the Wills’s AND whose brother Andrew Glassell Jr., built an incredible house on Buena Vista a stone’s throw from the Wills mansion…but that’s a story for another time).

Cooper Do-Nuts, Pt. III

I hate to be that guy, but I mean, come on.

The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council passed a letter requesting City leaders to formally recognize the site of the Cooper Do-Nuts Riot, specifically, at 215 South Main:

Irrespective of issues to be had with the alleged Cooper Do-Nut Riot (covered at length here and here)—the story always involves said uprising occurring on the 500 block of Main Street.

How and why DLANC elected to memorialize the Cooper’s Do-Nuts at 215 South Main is a mystery. After all, while there is conjecture as to whether the 500-block-of-South-Main-event even occurred (besides, there was no Cooper’s down there, and lone recounter Rechy has come out and said the story did not happen at a Cooper’s) the choice of 215 South Main as a location is in fact impossible, in that there was no Cooper’s there either, during the time Rechy contends the event transpired.

As in: the first Cooper Donuts—as evolved from the Evans Cafeteria—was at 215 South Main, in the Albert Cohn Building. That structure was demolished in toto, January 1958. On a corner of the newly-blacktopped parking lot, the Cooper Donut folk built a little standalone shop, which opened in late October 1959. Rechy has stated that the uprising occurred in both May 1958 and May 1959. Whichever it may have been, there was in any event no Cooper’s at 215 South Main between January 1958 and October 1959.

Evidentiary whatnot: the demolition permit from November 1957, the application to build the new structure in January 1959, which passed final inspection and received its Certificate of Occupancy in October 1959.

Again, to be clear:

213-223 South Main, the Albert Cohn block, seen in the 1953 Sanborn map, top, made a parking lot in January 1958. Below, in the recent aerial, note the presence of the little 1959 donut stand adjacent the Higgins Building.

Ok? Sorry to be persnickety about the thing, but a group like the DLANC, with their hearts in the right place and all, are still not allowed to play recklessly with historical truth. No-one is. This guy taught me that, and I stand by it.


After I penned the above post a couple weeks ago, the good folk over at Esotouric linked to it on Reddit. That post prompted this reply, and, though not going to do a whole ‘nother post about it, I do feel the need to address it.

Let’s “unpack this” as the kids say. First of all, Ms. Dilberian contends “it seems they are not creating a monument to the riot that may or may not have happened but rather focusing more on the fact that Cooper Do-nuts was a safe haven for all, regardless of their gender affiliation” although, in fact, the opposite is true. The DLANC letter, and the Facebook post to which Ms. Dilberian links, are solely about creating a monument to the riot, and not focused on any “safe haven” element; that idea goes unmentioned in both documents.

Secondly, the site of the first Cooper Do-nuts was not demolished by Jack and Margaret Evans—Ms. Dilberian states Evans Cafeteria structure was “torn down and rebuilt as a Cooper Do-nuts by the same owners”—when that structure was, rather, demolished by the building’s owner, Martin Lee, Inc. (In fairness, Ms. Dilberian’s syntax is unclear, so we don’t know whether she intended to connote the “same owners” tore down and rebuilt, or just rebuilt.)

In any event, the new structure was not completed “before early 1959” since the building permit was applied for in early 1959 and the location didn’t even get its Certificate of Occupancy, thus allowing it to open, until the late fall.

Lastly, one point is correct—said location stands to this day, which I pointed out in my post from over a year ago:

As we know, there was no uprising at Cooper’s, especially given as the one and only witness we have to any such event has stated it was not at Cooper’s.

With that out of the way, what we are now led to believe is that Cooper’s was unique for its inclusivity:

from here

And we are supposed to accept that Jack C. Evans was a 1950s ally to the trans community because…why? We have no evidence, save for the family says so. Is there an oral history they took from Jack before he passed? Are there eyewitness declarations? (Mind you, oral histories are routinely contradicted by archival evidence, and anyone in the legal or law enforcement biz will inform you that eyewitness testimony is the most unreliable of evidence.)

Ms. Dilberian, who started today’s conversation, is Evans family, after all, her being wed to Keith Evans, Jack’s grandson. The move to push the City to designate a “Cooper’s Do-nut Square” is motivated, it would seem, by the need to shine a kind, modern light on the family. However, the contention that these 1950s Evanses were trailblazing LGBTQIA+ supporters seems…forced.

Consider, there were twenty-six Cooper locations in Los Angeles, and they were all “safe havens”? With, presumably, the one at Second and Main as top safe haven banana, despite its location directly across from the Cathedral of St. Vibiana and the Union Rescue Mission. Point being, it’s a bit much to imagine men in tight capris, their shirts knotted at the midriff (as Rechy describes young donut aficionados) parading, seventy years ago, directly across from the seat of the Archdiocese, and rubbing elbows with the Rescue Mission habitués, which (unlike today) consisted of hard-bitten older white alcoholics.

On top of which, the gay bars were three blocks south, closer to The Run. (Yes, Survey LA’s LGBT Historic Context Statement states that in the 1940s there was one gay bar in the area—Smitty’s at 242 South Main, but even that claim is suspect, in that a) the Navy went out of its way to state Smitty’s was not included on the infamous “off limits to military personnel” list, and b) it was the scene of b-girl busts, which, had the arrests been same-sex, would certainly have made what was already lengthy coverage all the more newsworthy.)

So, again, we have only the family to believe. The remaining Evanses are proud of some sort of legacy, but their grasp on history is, perhaps, tenuous: for example, the above screengrab states that Jack and Marge were married in 1955, whereas the 1950 census shows them to already be husband and wife.

Ultimately, history is about evidence, and in discerning the wheat from the chaff we build a hypothesis, from which we gauge likelihood. As my buddy the forensic scientist says “all your history is just forensic science with more goddamn epistemology.” And the Cooper tale keeps being, over and over again, added to and morphed into ever-increasing unlikelihood, raising repeated questions of belief vs. knowledge, and piling on more of that g-d epistemology. In short, one sniff test after another, it just smells worse and worse.

The Great Wall of Bunker Hill

While Bunker Hill was famously wiped clean, it does contain a small quantity of interesting archaeological sites. The telling soil contours at Second and Hill. A remaining bit of retaining wall at Fourth and Olive. Less known (or at least not as yet mentioned by me) is the retaining wall at Fourth and Hill.

You may be familiar with this wall; let’s say you’ve gone to Angels Flight and on your stroll back to the car parked beneath Pershing Square—you passed by, glanced over and wondered hey, is that, something?

It most certainly is. Today our wall hides behind chainlink because once, it was part of a park, but the City couldn’t figure out how to keep the park clean of needles and human feces, so they closed it off for all and sundry. It’s still filled with needles and human feces, of course—the only difference being regl’ar folk are kept at bay.

To understand our wall, we have to go way back, to Old Hill Street. It was once quite residential—

Left to right, 337, 333, 331/329, 325, and 321 South Hill Street, ca. 1890. Huntington Library. A similar image may be found in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles.

Hill Street grew increasingly commercial. During the uptick of building that occurred after the fallout from the financial crashes of 1893 and ’96, but before the next downturn of 1907, there was a good bit of construction. Note in the comparison between the 1894 and 1906 Sanborn maps, how the area has much of its yellow (wooden) street frontage removed, and replaced by pink (brick) structures.

Sanborn Maps at the Library of Congress

And note, for our purposes, the STONE WALL 20′ that come 1906 (I believe the wall was built ca. 1903) runs from 343 South Hill, to the north. That stone wall still exists, here:

The Sanborn map of 1953. The Sanborn folk have it a bit wrong; the wall extended to the end of 329
From the air, August 1941. UCSB

So: you say, Nathan, there were once buildings lining Hill Street, north of Fourth? Really? What did they look like?

Left to right: Mary Doran Block, AKA Pembroke Hotel, 339-343 S Hill (Austin and Brown, 1904); Anna Higgins Steere Block, AKA California Eclectic Medical College/Los Angeles College of Osteopothy, 333-337 South Hill (Robert Brown Young, 1904); and the Dunn-Albright-Ames Block, 331-329 South Hill (Albert C. Martin, 1913). Note the Nick Peters neon boxer on the Steere Block! Boy I wonder if he had animated boxing arms. The signage was fabricated by Interstate Neon, an outfit in Van Nuys, and installed in early 1954.
The larger image. From left, Roberts Block, 353-355 South Hill (Robert Brown Young, 1904); the Gilbert S. Wright Block, AKA the University Club, 349-351 South Hill (John Parkinson, 1904); the Wright & Callender block, 354-347 South Hill (Parkinson & Bergstrom, 1905). This image was shot by Leonard Nadel in November 1955. Getty
Looking from the other side, in an image by Hall at the Huntington. Between the previous image and this one, notice the removal of the cornice from the Pembroke Hotel; owner David Rissman shed the structure of John C. Austin’s wonderfully ornate corbeled cornice in February 1956 to conform with the City’s parapet ordinance (similarly, see here for a 1939/1963 comparison of the Steere and Dunn-Albright-Ames block—remember, whenever you feel underwhelmed by a building, consider what may have been done to the parapet). This image gets a full page in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles—plus there’s a nifty shot of the Pembroke’s pool parlor (note Larby looking at it here). This image was shot by Hall in 1962; the structures, purchased by the CRA, were demolished in 1963.

So the block went on minding its own business, surviving through the decades—heck, few if any people knew that stone retaining wall lurked behind…until the structures were demolished via the Community Redevelopment Agency’s bulldozer policy, leaving and revealing the wall once hidden behind 329-343 South Hill St. If you really wanted to crawl behind there, you’d see this:

Behind the Pembroke during its demolition, May 1963. CRA

Here for example is the void left by the removal of the Steere Block, leaving A. C. Martin’s Dunn-Albright-Ames all on its lonesome:

Note the jutting retaining wall buttress at far left.

And soon all the structures were at the bottom of a landfill, leaving only our wall:

A slide from my collection, ca. 1975
Side note: the area was used to great effect in 1978’s Escape from Witch Mountain. That large Moreton Bay Fig tree looming over Clay Street was supposed to be saved and moved down the block to Angelus Plaza; from what I can tell it never made that trip… Compare the tree on Clay in this shot to it on its lonesome two images above
Another mid-70s slide from my collection
Did I call these buttresses? Strictly speaking this type of engaged buttress would be called a counterfort.
Compare to today. Via Bing Maps.
Top, “Retaining Wall Park” in its glory days. Middle and bottom, its degeneration after ten years of being fenced off.
Much of the time the Hill Street retaining wall lies hidden behind foliage, but WE know it’s there, lurking, reminding us of Hill Street’s urban past…

My pressing need to write about/share photos of this wall stems, of course, from the wall’s fate: imminent destruction. Of course, that corner of Fourth and Hill has long been the proposed site of…something.

In this curious rendering, the new track of Angels Flight spans Hill Street; one boards from atop Grand Central Market?
Note the placement of Angels Flight near the corner of Fourth and Hill, rather than further north up Hill Street

Then, when the California Plaza project got underway, there were plans for three matching towers, with one on the Fourth and Hill property:

Office Tower I being One California Plaza; Office Tower II being Two California Plaza; Office Tower III, unrealized.
Members of development team Cadillac-Fairview, and Shapell Government Housing, Inc., admire their model in the early 1980s. The proposed lower third tower, behind pointing guy’s shirt cuff.

That third tower, however, fell victim to the economic downturn of the early 1990s. Downtown Los Angeles, especially, through the 1990s, experienced an office glut and high vacancy rates. Despite eventual recovery from the 90s recession, the property went undeveloped and became a park (briefly famed as a location in 500 Days of Summer). Finally, about six weeks ago, the City rubberstamped the Angels Landing development.

Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2022

Thus, at some point in the near future, expect a vast number of demolition crews with earth movers to begin tearing up the parcel, and, in time, it will look (presumably) something like this:

Note in the rendering the vast shadow our new tower will cast over the hundreds of elderly in Angelus Plaza

Thereafter, this remaining remnant of Edwardian-era Hill Street will be gone. Of course, we still still have our beloved Angels Flight clattering adjacent, but, that notwithstanding…I for one will be sad to see this piece of vintage Bunker Hill erased.

Bunker Hill GOOGIE!

Googie architecture, in all its flamboyant space-age grandeur, has as its namesake the Lautner-designed 1949 Googies coffee shop at Sunset and Crescent Heights.

There were four Googies in the coffee shop chain; the second of the four was designed by legendary coffee shop architects Armét & Davis, with all the atomic-era exuberance that had come to define Googie style—an angular roofline, ebullient signage, lots of flagstone, and walls of glass that erased the boundaries between inside and out.

That second Googies was downtown, at Fifth and Olive, attached onto the San Carlos hotel; it made an appearance in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles in “Modern on the Hill,” as part of how the San Carlos (née Auditorium) Hotel was stripped of its Edwardian ornament and brought into the atomic era. Page 148:

Pumpkin Patch, Edwardian to her core, is not amused

A close-up of our coffee shop in question:

Its rendering—

I bring this up specifically because the most amazing book has been recently published. No, not my book—though yes, I’m not ashamed to say this new book also hails from Angel City Press, titans of book publishing. The book to which I refer is Googie Modern:

And, holy moly, this book is killer. If you’ve any interest in mid-Century—you may have a familiarity with Hess’ two books on Googie—this is essential. 208 pages! It’s got interviews and essays and tons of images no-one has ever seen. More to the point for our purposes here, it contains the rendering reproduced above—in a nifty “then and now” configuration the book utilizes—

—plus SIX PAGES of Googies downtown renderings and design studies! Not to mention a freakin’ essay on the Fifth & Olive Googies!

I’ll just tempt you with the mere mention of those images…no, I’m not going to actually SHOW them to you; to see them in all their glory you have to in fact BUY the dang book, ya bum. Rather, I’ll obscure them, and the essay, with this nifty Fifth & Olive menu. Ha!

Oh, and you might remember the other day I mentioned you should come by USC for some Bunker Hill book-signin’ fun? Well, my pal Alan will be there too:

In fact, he and co-author Michael Murphy will be there both days! They along with all sorts of literary luminaries:

So, to sum up, go get Googie Modern, or better yet go to USC this weekend and get Googie Modern, and then I’ll see you at Pann’s!

Cooper’s Do-Nuts — Addenda

Last June I posted We Need to Talk About Cooper Do-Nuts regarding John Rechy and the famed, alleged uprising.

Six months later theLAnd published this interview with Rechy wherein he states “There was no riot at Cooper’s.”

Which is an important statement. Remember, Rechy is the sole, lone source of the story. It’s his story: there’s no other evidence, so he alone dictates canon.

When I say it didn’t happen, much less at Cooper’s, so what, who am I but a lowly historian? But when the guy who actually came up with the story now says nothing happened at Cooper’s, that’s a major wrench in the cultural consciousness—when you consider the hundreds of descriptions of Cooper’s presently on the web. The t-shirts and patches. The enthusiastic artwork. Cooper’s Do-nuts even re-opened, in a fashion. Heck, people are getting Cooper’s tattoos.

So, where was this other, not-Cooper’s donut shop? According to the 1959 Yellow Pages the only other downtown donutery was Angel Food Donut at 423 South Hill, in the Subway Terminal Building. If we’re married to Main Street, Pat’s Donuts, at 654 South Main, opened in March 1959; too late if the riot happened in 1958 (Rechy told Los Angeles Magazine, and others, it had occurred in 1958) but in time for “spring of 1959” as Rechy originally told the story in 2005—though Rechy did insist his donut place was between Harold’s and the Waldorf, placing the action across the street and a block north from Pat’s.

On to other things: of the collection of Coopers around downtown, there were two a stone’s throw from Pershing Square, Rechy’s renowned haunt. One was just north of the park, on Hill above Fifth, which I covered extensively in the aforementioned post, and of which I provided a nifty color photo, about which I was pretty happy.

The other Cooper’s was down Olive, just south of the park, the other side of Sixth. And I struggled to find an image of that 628 South Olive Street location. For the darnedest time the only shot I had was this one:

Painted in good ol’ Cooper Yellow. From here.

Then, I recently picked up a new Clifton’s slide, and we have now been blessed with this:

Red-bordered Kodachrome, ca. 1958

And there you have it! As far as I’m aware, the first sighting of the Olive Street Cooper’s.

As long as I’ve got you here. I also searched for an image of the initial incarnation of Cooper’s Donuts at 215 South Main, when it was still in the Albert Cohn Bldg (Morgan & Walls, 1908), before that location went out of business in January 1958. All of a sudden, this site popped up: And on said site is this shot:

That’s demo scaffolding in front; the building owner applied for a demolition permit in November 1957. It’s made a parking lot in mid-January 1958; in 1959 the Cooper folk take out a permit to build a little standalone on corner of the site:

213 South Main gets its Certificate of Occupancy on October 28, 1959; it stands to this day. USC Digital Archive

Those, then, being some further tidbits about Cooper Do-nuts. Yes, I know, this is ostensibly a Bunker Hill site, and these nuggets of Old LA are perhaps merely tangential to the Hill—but I say we get a pass since there were two Cooper’s on Bunker Hill, and hey, it’s all grist for the mill (nudge nudge, if you want an image of the Cooper’s on Bunker Hill’s Third Street flats, go buy Bunker Noir).

Theodore Hall has a Finding Aid!

You’re of course familiar with the Big Four—Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins and Stanford—well, the Big Five, actually, as people always forget Edwin Crocker, since he’s Charles’ brother.

Similarly, when it comes to the great Bunker Hill photographers, there’s the Big Four—Hylen, Reagh, Connor and Hall—well, the Big Five, actually, as people always forget Nadel, since he was a pro on a mission for the City rather than a Bunker enthusiast.

Bunker Hill’s Big Five are, by and large, accessible out there in internet-land. Hylen is well-represented at the Cal State Library, as is Reagh; there’s no shortage of Reagh over at LAPL, either. Palmer Connor is digitized in all his Kodachrome glory over at the Huntington, and Nadel’s work can be found online at the Getty.

The photography of Theodore Seymour Hall, however, has remained in the shadows, undigitized at the Huntington, viewable only to those with the gumption to go to the library and see his work in person. The best place to see a selection of Hall’s work is in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles. So, grab your copy and check out pages 6, 41, 97 (bottom), 108, 134 (left and right), 135, 155 (bottom right), 158, 159 (bottom right), and 174. Those are all Hall images. Heck, a Hall even graces the back cover!

A classic Hall shot: the pensioners of Bunker Hill sun themselves and discuss current events on the benches at the end of Third Street where it dead-ended at Bunker Hill Avenue. This image gets a nifty two-page spread on pp. 108-9.

Now, however, there is a rather detailed finding aid. I’ll admit I’m a little proud to have lent a hand on the project. But the real credit goes to Huntington archivist Suzanne Oatey, who did all the heavy lifting. In short, Hall put out three self-published 11×14 photobooks in 1962-63 of various Bunker Hill scenes, and now you can read what’s in ’em.

The finding aid is here. Here it is expanded in PDF and in HTML.

Someday, of course, I’d like reissue all three books in one volume with deeper commentary and so forth, à la Hylen’s Bunker Hill: A Los Angeles Landmark but, all in good time.

One last thing. Strictly speaking we should include Virgil Mirano, the least-known of the Bunker photographers. So, from the Big Four to Five to Big Six. But now we risk confusing our photographers with the Big Six, so, we’ll call them the Bunker Six. Mirano is also undigitized, and his finding aid doesn’t tell you much, but you can see some of his work in BHLA on pages 38 (left), 68 (left), 112 (bottom), 156 (left), 156 (top right) and 163 (top).

Oh, and George Mann. The Bunker Seven!

Bunker Hill Film Festival!

How is it that, to go to the Greatest Los Angeles Film Festival of All Time, you have to go to Minneapolis?

Proving once again that at being Los Angeles, we continually and embarrassingly fail.

Thus, I lift a hefty Arbeiter Moneymaker and toast the greatness of Minneapolis, and the Trylon Cinema-in-conjunction-with-The Heights, the only theater(s) brave enough, cool enough, to have a Bunker Hill Film Festival, starting two weeks from tonight.

More information here and here and here.