317 South Vermont Avenue


Today there is often more to the photographic collections of many libraries than first meets the eye—a case in point would be that of the University of Southern California, whose digital database includes a "zoom" feature that allows for some extraordinary discoveries not at all evident in images initially found. An example of such serendipity would be the house built at 317 South Vermont Avenue between 1911 and 1914 by John N. Kirkland, an owner of the American Drug Company, which he had formed with his brother Derwent in 1907 and which merged with the Sun Drug Company in 1922. Almost indistinguishable in a circa-1930 panorama taken from the east side of Vermont looking west and northwest, the house reveals itself as we, like eagles, zoom in:

The John N. Kirkland house, built circa 1912 on a residential street,
 quickly became a lone residence on a busy commercial boulevard. Remarkably,
 the family remained in the house at least as late as 1944 and possibly into the '50s;
 317 South Vermont was very likely standing at the time of Mrs. Kirkland's death on
 September 2, 1955. In 1910, the entire block seen above was an empty field

originally belonging to the Schmidt family of 3440 Wilshire Boulevard.

At the time that 317 was built, South Vermont was a narrower residential street not yet slated to become a primary north-south arterial road. Major street alterations in the planning stages during the mid-teens would abbreviate the domestic tranquility of the Kirkland house and its neighborhood, though it must be said that quite a few builders of big houses in the Wilshire District suffered from a similar kind of bad timing, simply a risk inherent in any real estate endeavor in a city experiencing growth as explosive as that of Los Angeles. The Kirklands were no doubt encouraged in the viability of their residential effort by the grand estate built around the corner in 1912—it was once at 255 South New Hampshire—by former Los Angeles mayor Henry T. Hazard. While the Kirkland family owned the house at least into the '40s, they appear to have rented at least parts of it from 1924, when it became home for a time to the Russian Arts Club. John Kirkland died in 1933, by which time Vermont was overwhelmingly commercial and undoubtedly heavily trafficked. Neither of these attributes would pry Mary Kirkland from her home; her 53-year-old son William, also in the drug business and apparently no longer married, was living with her at 317 in 1940 along with a lodger who seems to have been unrelated. (The Kirklands also had a daughter, Dorothy, born in 1893.) The house had been further subdivided by this time; there were now tenants at 317½, either within the main house or perhaps in former servants' quarters over the garage at the rear of the property. By 1942, it was Mrs. Kirkland and William who were listed in the city directory at 317½. 

John and Mary Kirkland are seen in a photograph taken for a
passport application dated April 18, 1923, when they were
living on Vermont Avenue. They sailed for England and
France in May and planned to stay "indefinitely,"
which would account for the rental of their
house to the Russian Arts Club.

While it is unclear as to how long she might have stayed on Vermont Avenue, Mary Kirkland's house appears in vintage aerial photographs to have survived at least as long as she did. Mrs. Kirkland died at 93 in Los Angeles in 1955. Information accompanying the picture on which our top photograph is based and the one below, discovered after the panorama, indicates that they were commissioned by Mrs. Kirkland in 1928, perhaps to record the house for posterity, or with a plan to sell in mind, or perhaps as part of a scheme to market the house for commercial uses. After the Second World War, with Kirklands possibly still in residence in part of the house, the Pioneer Women's Organization for Palestine was at 317; later, offices of the Labor Zionist Movement of Los Angeles were there. A real estate operator specializing in junkets to Hesperia was listed at the address in 1956; two years later, a perhaps related enterprise, the California City Development Company, began promoting that famously hyped Mojave Desert community. Eventually, 317 South Vermont gave way to the inevitable parking lot—for a McDonald's that opened in 1971.

Illustrations: U.S.C. Digital Library

3741 West 27th Street


This typical Los Angeles house of the old western suburbs has an interesting multicultural history. Built in 1914 on what was then the very edge of the city—the Home Villa Tract in which it was built was part of the Colegrove annexation of just five years before—the Mission Revival house initially addressed 2841 West 27th Street represents a particular crossroads the affluent Los Angeles home builder faced before the First World War, one that determined the arc of the house's history. In the year of its construction, the West Adams District was comprised of older neighborhoods extending back to Main Street and newer ones almost as far west as Crenshaw Boulevard. Enormous houses on veritable in-town estates were going up along Adams Street quite far from its original bon ton stretch roughly between Figueroa and Hoover. But at the same time, so too were palatial new residences being built out along Wilshire Boulevard; Beverly Hills was rising, if slowly; streets and sidewalks were being poured in the original Windsor Square; Los Feliz was being developed; and Pasadena's fashionable mien was steadfastly alluring. The Angeleno who found himself wishing to build a big house knew not where to settle in the vast city—while it wouldn't be determined definitively until the Depression, it stood to reason that not all of the city's neighborhoods of enormous houses could survive with their reputations for fashion intact. As a linear residential neighborhood, Wilshire Boulevard would die fitfully through the 1920s, perhaps 98 percent of its houses ultimately destroyed; West Adams would fade dramatically in its entirety even if much of its stock of mansions remains, some altered to accommodate many more people than originally intended and some adapted to new uses. The demographic forces that pushed the rich this way and that in Los Angeles actually have less to do with fashion and more to do with the dramatic population growth of the '20s and the resulting housing crunch, compounded by aging structures and then the Depression. (A short summary of the fate of West Adams may be read here.) One response to the dramatic population growth of the City of Los Angeles over the years was annexation of new territory, which resulted in address realignments over the years, particularly in the West Adams District. Initially designated 2841 West 27th Street, the Hauerwaas house became 3805 by 1920; downtown stationers were once again delighted with yet another change four years later, when "3741" was settled upon.

A rendering of the Hauerwaas house appeared in the Times of March 22, 1914;
 construction was to begin within two weeks. It was to be of white stucco
with green tiles on the roof overhang; the entire first floor was
to be finished in crotch and Tabasco mahoganies.

Back to 27th Street. Born in Wurzburg, John A. Hauerwaas came to Los Angeles in 1883 at the age of 21, making haste to invest lucratively in real estate, with a fallback in beer. He also earned a reputation as a sportsman, the Times once calling him the "Best Shot of Los Angeles." As a partner in Adloff & Hauerwaas, he bottled the popular Schlitz and Wieland brews. With ever-growing Los Angeles requiring ever more land and beer, Hauerwaas had it all covered; had he survived beyond the age of 44 he might have left an even bigger estate to his wife Lucy and their five children. As it was, the family was well-fixed. After nearly a decade in Alfred J. Salisbury's Victorian house on Hoover Street (Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #240), Lucy decided to go modern two miles west out on 27th Street. One wonders if her husband would have decided on the new district Lucy chose. Would he have better been able to read the tea leaves of Los Angeles real estate and have moved his family more northwesterly toward one of the ultimate winners in the stakes for in-town neighborhoods of fashion? Lucy appears to have been a woman able to make up her own mind, one who probably understood the risks of real estate and that in Los Angeles, the chips could fall anywhere. After acquiring a 32,000-square-foot lot in the Home Villa Tract, she engaged as architect for her new house a non-architect, William Bosbyshell. A banker and real estate developer, Bosbyshell seems to have developed enough of a creative streak as a contractor to design an adept modern counterpoint to Lucy's gabled former home. Now nearly a century old, the resulting white stucco Mission Revival house has stood the test of time and the vagaries of its neighborhood.

Seen on the S.S. Amerika bound for Europe in 1910 are Lucy Hauerwaas, at right;
Lucy, Gertrude, and Edna are next her. John Conrad Hauerwaas, later based in
New York as the president of U.S. Steel Products Division of U. S. Steel,
hold the life preserver with his youngest sister Evelyn inside. 

Lucy Hauerwaas's mettle was not to be underestimated. Evelyn, the youngest of her five children, was born 19 days after her husband died. Three-year-old Evelyn accompanied her mother and four siblings on a remarkable automobile trip from April to November of 1910. The family drove north from Los Angeles to Vancouver and then across the Canadian Rockies to Chicago before reaching New York, where they boarded the S.S. Amerika along with the car for a motorized Grand Tour. Back home on 27th Street, the rest of the decade played out with the older children marrying; one daughter, Lucy, married tire manufacturer Roy Renzo Meads and would later live with her family on 27th Street following her mother's remarriage, after 19 years, to rancher Jasper Newton Teague, known at one time as the "Cauliflower King" of Southern California. Moving then to Arcadia, Lucy Teague appears to have left her house to her children. While Lucy and Roy, who were divorced before long, lived in the house with Evelyn, it was another sister, Gertrude, married to the wonderfully named Lafayette Rounsabelle, who appears to have taken charge. Perhaps feeling stuck with a white elephant in the worst year of the Depression, Mrs. Rounsabelle filed an application with the buildings department in 1933 to alter the house for use as a boarding school. The next phase of 3741 is somewhat unclear, with one source indicating that the house was retained by the family and let to the Kalifornia Kiddie Kollege, the initials of which one hopes was only a clueless choice. While foreclosure would seem unlikely given the presumed deep pockets of Lucy Teague and the vast landholdings of her husband, perhaps 3741 was the actual responsibility of the Rounsabelles and the divorcing Meadses who were finding themselves with too much house on their hands and in over their heads financially. Another source indicates that the Bank of Hollywood came into full possession in 1933 and was now the landlord, selling off during its ownership a significant portion of the lot on the east side of the house. By 1937, in any case, the house reverted to residential use when a second interesting family came into possession of 3741 West 27th Street.

From the Times of January 11, 1935

California-born Masako Kusayanagi was a Nesei, a second-generation Japanese, who appears to have led her family from a small house at 752 Micheltorena Street to the big house on West 27th when she had just recently been graduated from U.S.C. and was pursuing a medical career. It is unclear as to why the house would have been put in her youthful name when it was bought from the Bank of Hollywood, unless it was a prescient attempt by her father to circumvent trouble in the next several years. Takejiro Kusayanagi had been the proprietor of a dry goods store on Main Street since 1906; he and his wife Matsu had five daughter and a son ranging in age from 10 to 27 in 1937. There was plenty of room remaining on the lot for their addition of a formal Japanese garden, and for the family in the new house, although their tenancy would be interrupted after Pearl Harbor when the government ordered the internment of Japanese Americans in February 1942. By cleverly putting the house into the name of their Kusayanagi Investment Company, the family was able to retain 3741 during their stay at Manzanar for the duration. Before leaving for the Owens Valley Masako had been a resident physician at Los Angeles County General Hospital. In Manzanar she was on the staff of the camp hospital, but when she returned to Los Angeles and to West 27th Street, Dr. Kusayanagi was denied her former position at County General. The family retained the house until passing it along to a church in 1954, just after Takejiro and Matsu finally became naturalized U.S. citizens.

The Centenary Methodist Church, which then had its sanctuary at 3500 South Normandie, served a large Japanese congregation, presumably among them the Kusayanagis. The year after the church came into possession of 3741, it submitted an application to the city to convert it into a boarding facility for 20 people, the house's second use as a group facility. As it prepared to move from Normandie and 35th back to its original neighborhood of Little Tokyo in the early 1980s, the church sold 3741 to Logan Westbrooks, Director of Special Markets at CBS Records in the 1970s and founder of Source Records. Westbrooks also founded the Helping Hands Home for Boys, which moved into 3741. Until recently the Hauerwaas house remained a boarding facility, as it had been since 1955, and during the '30s; in 1998, Westbrooks sold it to Nebraska-based Father Flanagan's Boys' Home. 

Music industry executive Logan Westbrooks and his aunt, Girlee Easter, in front of
 3741 West 27th Street during its time as the Helping Hands Home for Boys.

One of the seemingly intractable myths attached to the Hauerwaas-Kusayanagi house is that it was once the residence of heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. This information crops up in more than a few items one encounters when researching the property. The most thorough investigation has been done by Anna Marie Brooks in preparing documents proposing it for recognition by the city as a historical site; in none of her material does the name Jack Dempsey appear (Ms. Brooks's comprehensive report, including an exhaustively detailed description of the house, may be read here). In the 1920s Dempsey did live in a Mission Revival house in West Adams, one at 2415 South Western Avenue, now demolished; by late 1925 he had moved miles north to Los Feliz. The property may well be on Father Flanagan's hands for a while, given the New Jersey marketing broker's limited knowledge of the house and its city. His website refers to the house as "Built in the 1920s...a perfect example of the elegant architecture that graced the Los Feliz district of Hollywood in the 1920s...3741 West 27th Street was the home of the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Jack Dempsey, when he was a fighter. It was donated in 1995 to Father Flanagan’s Boys Town by the boxer’s daughter.” Where to begin with such a clueless, confused listing?

The setting is less verdant, the neighborhood less desirable, but the house looks pretty much the same today as it did in 1914. Perhaps not a typical Los Angeles house of the old western suburbs after all, 3741 West 27th Street has justifiably become Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #990.

The Hauerwaas-Kusayanagi house in May 2011

331 South Mariposa Avenue


"The house is located at 331 South Mariposa Avenue," reported the Los Angeles Times when it was sold in 1922 by the family that built it 11 years before. The house was located at 331 South Mariposa Avenue. But where might it be now?

Indiana native Joseph M. Overell came west with the 20th century, arriving in Los Angeles from Evansville in 1898 after a successful career as a building contractor, architect, and planing-mill owner. With an affinity for wood, he opened a Spring Street furniture emporium in partnership with George L. Louden and, a few years later, a store of his own, the instantly booming J. M. Overell Furniture Company. Joe worked hard pushing davenports, breakfronts, and canterburies out the doors of his showroom on downtown's Furniture Row; he also worked hard at making sure that those buying from him on the installment plan didn't enjoy their parlor suites without paying up, sending his sons Arthur and Ira out to forcibly retrieve goods not paid for. In 1906, thugs Arthur and Ira were convicted in court of assaulting an old man whose son was in arrears. (Though they became fairly rich and had social aspirations, the Overells were perhaps never what you would call genteel, their being in trade the least of it.) After a decade spent living with his family east of Main Street, most recently in a still-extant dwelling at 242 East Adams Boulevard, it was time for a statement house in the manner of all prosperous burghers. While its bungalowesque design was replicated by many local architects to the point of quickly becoming a Los Angeles trademark and then just as quickly being seen all too often, Overell's new house, though hardly distinctive by the time it was built in 1911, may have actually been his own interpretation of the genre, given his prior architectural experience; he may very well have also acted as his own contractor. In any case, Joseph Overell made the decision to move not directly west along the still-fashionable Adams corridor but to the northwest. While ultimately his new neighborhood proved to have no more longevity in terms of exclusivity than West Adams, being not quite as far west in the burgeoning Wilshire District as those neighborhoods that would hold their cachet into the 21st century, at the time South Mariposa Avenue signified having arrived. The gabled house at number 331, termed "Elizabethan" by the Los Angeles Times, was big and airy and had plenty of room for Joe and Anna Overell and the four of their six sons still living at home. Sadly, Joe didn't get to enjoy his new hard-earned house for very long, expiring as he did at age 59 on December 13, 1912. His widow assumed the presidency of what was very much a family firm—all of the Overells' six sons would eventually work for the company, if not always so amicably. (Strife at the office would turn out to be only a small part of the family's troubles; Joe and Anna's granddaughter Beulah Louise Overell would be tried for murdering her parents by blowing up their yacht in a wonderfully noir 1947 case, to be described in due course.) Although she would be dead a year after leaving Mariposa Avenue, Anna Overell was one of several widows of prominent Los Angeles merchants who took over the corporate reins when their husbands died: Mary Brent tried her hand at the helm of Brent's Great Credit House, another Main Street furniture store, and Alice Coulter became president of the swanky department store bearing her name.

As seen in the Times, January 15, 1922. The palms reveal a decade's growth

Purchasing 331 South Mariposa from Anna in late 1921 was George W. Moore and his son, Harold D. Moore. At the time George was the vice-president and treasurer of, and Harold an employee at, Keystone Iron and Steel Works, an old Los Angeles company that manufactured fire hydrants, lamp standards, and other street furniture. Harold appears to have married and left the house by 1927; George was gone by 1929...and there the trail of the house's history goes cold. On its site today is a small stucco apartment complex the first phase of which was built in 1932. In all likelihood the Overell house was demolished, its pieces scattered to the winds...but then there is the intriguing notation made by someone, perhaps the photographer, on the back of the photograph that served as the basis of the illustration seen here at top: "Demolished or moved." Moved? Well, given the talents of leading Los Angeles house mover George R. Kress, it could very well have been moved. But to where? Aerial research via satellite of the usual destinations of such houses—Windsor Square, Hancock Park, Fremont Place—hasn't ferreted out 331 on another street. A friend of Historic Los Angeles suggested that our quarry might be in Lafayette Square, but no dice...and besides, relocations of big L.A. houses were usually in a more linear direction out along the Wilshire corridor, from thoroughfares wider than Mariposa and lots less tight than that of 331. Mariposa Avenue was still a nice address at least up to the Depression, when moves of large houses pretty much stopped. Ever hopeful, we'd like to offer as a prize dinner on us at Perino's to the first person to locate the mobile Overell house.

Overell's was one of many furniture stores once lining Main Street; in 1906, after
several years down the street, the firm moved into this four-story
building that still stands at Seventh and Main.

It seems that after Anna Overell's death on January 8, 1923, her six sons, as noted, were unable to keep their rivalries in check. Arthur was now head of the firm, much to the displeasure of the two youngest brothers, Robert and Lawrence, who took him to court in 1924 seeking to have him removed as trustee of their stock. Apparently, whatever the outcome of the t
rial, the brothers got back down to business. Given the exploding population of Los Angeles during the 1920sthe number of Angelenos rose by 115 percent during the decadethere was more than enough of a demand for demilunes and divans to support all six Overell brothers and their families in haute bourgeois comfort. Sibling tension may have only been in abeyance while the cash rolled in; after the boom, in 1935, Arthur left J. M. Overell after 32 years to open his own rival furniture concern in the next block with his sons Raymond and Harold. Ira, Oscar, Robert, Lawrence, and Walter Overell stayed with the original firm, though both stores appear to have closed some time before Pearl Harbor.

It was Walter's only offspring that would go on to bring ultimate ignominy to the family name in the dreadful year of 1947, when, two months after the Black Dahlia was found in an empty lot in Leimert Park in January, plain and plump, spoiled and lovesick 17-year-old Beulah Louise Overell and her equally immature fiancĂ© Bud Gollum were charged with murdering her father and mother for an inheritance by planting a time bomb of dynamite on the 47-foot family yacht, the Mary E., at Newport Beach. While it seemed to be an open-and-shut case, the pair beat the rap after a 19-week trial but split up anyway. It turned out, unsurprisingly, that a bargain furniture store could not in the long run support a yachting lifestyle; Walter was by some accounts practically broke when he was blown to smithereens, rendering Beulah's likely double parricide less lucrative in the end. She ended her days a drunk in Las Vegas in 1965, having led a life as unlamented as the fashion for her name (her full story in marvelous detail may be read here). One wonders how much infamy such as Beulah's would have hurt the family businesses had they still been open in 1947; today in the age of the anti-hero, Beulah's swagger and slick avoidance of the gas chamber would probably stimulate sales of Barcaloungers and bric-a-brac. As it turned out the Overell name in the annals of the history of retail commerce in Los Angeles has been forever singed by bad, sad Beulah. Yet like its old house once at 331 South Mariposa Avenue, the family must be out there somewhere.

The Overell house appears in a 1920s film taken from a vehicle moving south along
Mariposa Avenue between Third and Fourth streets. Not a single house
appearing in the footage remains. The full sequence is here.

The lot that once held Joseph M. Overell's 1911 house now holds
 a five-building complex built between 1932 and '42. It could very well

 be that the tall palms at the curb were planted 112 years ago.

Illustrations: Homes and Gardens of the Pacific Coast; LATUSCDLyoutube;
 Google Street View