3601 Wilshire Boulevard
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BERKELEY SQUARE ST. JAMES PARK WILSHIRE BOULEVARD
For decades, it seems, if the name Doheny wasn't being cited by the Los Angeles Times in stories regarding the oil industry, it was the name Getty. And early on, the Getty mentioned most was the originator of the California family, George Franklin Getty, who built 3601 Wilshire Boulevard in 1908. As the house's style did for many a newcomer to Los Angeles, its half-timbered suggestion of English antiquity was meant to comfort the socially insecure and to preclude any discomfort among the already established that among them had come an arriviste—not that there really were many people in L.A. who weren't arrivistes back then.
|George Franklin Getty in a portrait by Los Angeles|
photographer Aaron Tycko, circa 1923.
George Getty, born in Allegany County, Maryland, on October 17, 1855, was trained as a lawyer in Ohio and at Ann Arbor, practicing first in Michigan before moving to Minneapolis and prospering in corporate law. In 1903, while on a business trip to the Oklahoma Territory as chief legal counsel of the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company, Getty stumbled upon what would be his second, much shinier act. Moving his family south from Minnesota and buying the lease on a 1,100-acre tract for speculation, Getty began drilling. Within months his Minnehoma Oil Company had a gusher, then another and another. By the middle of 1906, having become one of the biggest and richest independent oil operators on the eastern Great Plains, Getty saw even greater possibilities still farther west. The family moved again, now to Los Angeles, the sunny prize after Minnesota and Oklahoma and a lot of hard work. Settling for the time being at the Hotel Frontenac downtown, Getty began looking for a permanent situation, in March 1907 buying, in Sarah's name, a 75-by-150-foot lot far out on Wilshire Boulevard in the sparsely populated Normandy Hill tract. (The first house in the area, W. D. Longyear's 3555 Wilshire a block east in the same subdivision, was just being completed.) By midsummer, in-demand architect Frank M. Tyler was commissioned to design a house for the lot, with a contract to build going out on September 1. On March 15, 1908, the Times reported that 3601 Wilshire had just been completed. In 1913, Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast, Vol II, described the Getty house thusly: "This is an attractive home along modern English lines.... Like most English homes the first story is of brick with half timber construction above. The interior is modified Colonial in design. Woodwork is oak and mahogany. The walls of the living room are of silk tapestry with Astrakhan rugs as floor coverings. The reception hall and bedrooms are finished in white enamel. The English type of architecture fits well in this coast country, and is most comfortable and pleasing."
As were a number of houses with Wilshire Boulevard frontage, 3601 was built facing its side street. As one of the first builders on still-unpaved Wilshire it doesn't seem as though Getty would have been worried about heavy traffic on the wider street, although maybe he was looking ahead. Perhaps it was simply a matter of the footprint of his new house fitting its lot better when placed perpendicular to Wilshire. At any rate, after five years, the house's address was changed to 647 South Kingsley Drive to conform to its orientation. After the annexation in recent years of Hollywood, the Colegrove Addition, and other territory, the City of Los Angeles made a number changes in street alignments, nomenclature, and house numbering. Wilshire, in these precincts, had been throwing off an orderly system; the 600 block of Kingsley, for example, once extended from Sixth Street south to Wilshire, with the 700 block extending from Wilshire to Seventh. It is unclear whether the changes were made in a single day or over time, but after 1912, the 600 block, or blocks, extended from Sixth south to Seventh. While this wouldn't have actually affected a 600-block designation of the Getty house, the Getty's address change from Wilshire to Kingsley was made at this time. Perhaps George Getty was learning the art of understatement, which he might have begun to feel he needed with a son who was proving to be no shrinking violet.
George and Sarah Risher Getty were married in Ohio in 1879; they went on to have two children, the 1890 death at age nine of the older, Gertrude, perhaps explaining the later seriously uncharming personality of the younger, Jean Paul, born in Minneapolis on December 15, 1892. Not that the perhaps inevitably spoiled boy started out charmless, not at all. Not yet 14 when the family moved to Los Angeles, Jean Paul was high-spirited, precocious on many levels, and interested more in girls than in the tedious rules and rituals of the Harvard Military School. He got away with bucking the system at school and at home for years; he wasn't disinterested in acquiring an education, but he knew the subjects he was interested in and made certain he studied them his way, to the fullest. He wound up with a degree from Oxford by 1913, developing while in England quite a taste for a civilization he considered superior to Minnesota's, Oklahoma's and that of Los Angeles. He probably realized that he had little chance of coming near the inner circle of that superior civilization without a great deal of money. He returned to provincial L.A. to make that great deal of money in the family business, business being something he was attracted to as much as England, women, and independence. His story is, of course, told at length in many places, such as The House of Getty by Russell Miller; as for his life at 3601 Wilshire Boulevard, to which both before and after his time in England he was somehow able to bring girlfriends home for more than milk and cookies right under George and Sarah's noses, his attachment to it must have been strong. The house was in a district fast becoming the center of town, with Beverly Hills emerging five miles to the west and cars now the new way of life. Despite a great deal of tension between father and son over unshared values if not moneymaking prowess, Paul was to live at home until he was 30 years old and about to marry the first of his five wives. Between spouses, it appears that he lived back at 3601, where his father died on May 31, 1930.
|The George F. Getty house in 1913, just as its address changed|
from 3601 Wilshire to 647 South Kingsley Drive
It should be mentioned that there are a number of Getty houses in the area extending from Kingsley Drive toward Hancock Park. It is often written that J. Paul Getty grew up in the 1914 house at 600 South Rossmore of very similar design to 3601 Wilshire. J. Paul reportedly bought the house in 1936, though it appears that he may never have lived in it—perhaps the purchase had something to do with his fourth wife divorcing him that year. The enumerator of the 1940 Federal census has him living with his mother at 647 South Kingsley, ostensibly wifeless, despite his having married wife number five in 1939. Until just after Sarah died on December 26, 1941, he was listed in the city directory at 647 before moving to his Santa Monica beach house with Number Five.
J. Paul's many wives, once discarded, required the sort of housing to which they had become accustomed. The same year he bought the South Rossmore house, he acquired 641 South Irving Boulevard, at the northwest corner of Wilshire, for the now-estranged Number Five, famously the palazzo of Norma Desmond, which, presented even more in shambles, appeared five years later in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause. (J. Paul, never much interested in being a good neighbor, gave the residents of Windsor Square fits when he sought to tear down the house soon after its last film appearance; he, naturally, succeeded, adding insult to injury by building the huge, block-long, and still-extant headquarters for his business interests. In a bid to acquire the entire block, Getty Oil wound up with 605 South Irving, naming it in memory of J. Paul's oldest son George Franklin Getty II; this time thwarted by neighbors, Getty donated it to the city in 1976 for use as the official mayor's residence.
As for 3601 Wilshire Boulevard—one of the first houses west of Vermont Avenue was also one of the last to fall. Whether J. Paul Getty sold or leased what became 647 South Kingsley isn't certain, but by August 1942 the house had become one of a small chain of nursing homes, with its property at 647 being called Sunny Pines Lodge. The house remained the Lodge until 1961; some time after that, St. Basil Catholic Church, located around the corner on Harvard Boulevard, acquired the property and began to plan its imposing new sanctuary, dedicated on June 29, 1969.
|St. Basil Catholic Church, built in 1969 on the site of the Getty house:|
The Wilshire Boulevard Temple is at left; its right edge is
also seen in the 1956 photograph at top.
Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast, Vol II; Google Street View