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:
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).
Upon said plot, they build “one of the finest residences in the city”—
Next door, at 130, Marc W. Connor’s famed Melrose is completed about six months later:
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:
And look at the incredible shingle work on the roof:
Also, I think this is the only image of the house with hanging plants on the porch:
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:
Robert Sr. abandons Los Angeles soon after. In 1893, Helen sells the Richelieu:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Now ain’t that a form we’ve seen before—
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:
And then of course there’s the whole issue of how Newsom—Ferris?—handled porch railings—
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.