HISTORIC LOS ANGELES encompasses four sites offering individual house histories of one entirely vanished gated street, BERKELEY SQUARE; one seminal thoroughfare still very much in place but entirely, or almost entirely, devoid of its original array of single-family residences, WILSHIRE BOULEVARD; one partially surviving West Adams subdivision adjacent to well-known Chester Place, but predating it—ST. JAMES PARK—and FREMONT PLACE, opened in 1911 in a new Wilshire district becoming known as the West End of Los Angeles. Below are links to these histories; prior posts here are stories of houses and institutions elsewhere in the city.
John Parkinson Found—and Lost Again
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John Parkinson is one of those men of whom it could accurately be said, "He built Los Angeles." His many distinguished and even iconic buildings, many still standing, helped to elevate the stature of the city beyond its history as a 19th-century Western town in the shadow of San Francisco. Among his works are the Homer Laughlin Building on Broadway (a.k.a. the Grand Central Market, 1896) and the Braly Block (a.k.a. the Continental Building, 1902) and Alexandria Hotel (1906) on Spring Street. With his early partner Edwin Bergstrom he designed the A. G. Bartlett building (a.k.a. Union Oil, 1911) on West Seventh; with his son Donald at the firm from 1920, he designed the Coliseum (1923) and, with Albert Martin, no less an icon than City Hall (1928). Add the masterpiece of the phenomenal Bullock's-Wilshire of 1928, and it's evident that the man and the history of Los Angeles can be read as one.
The architect's own house once stood downtown at the southeast corner of St. Paul Avenue and Sixth Street, where he lived with his family from 1901 to 1915 in five-bedroom, five-bath splendor. Much discussed in architectural trade journals of the era, 600 St. Paul Avenue reflected the train of thought also influencing Irving Gill and the Prairie School and seems most often to be described as early Mission Revival. Our initial assumption was that 600 had been demolished perhaps even as late as the '40s, decades after Parkinson left, and that a great deal of earth was removed with it to make way for the building now on the corner and flush with the sidewalk, one erected in 1948 for Westinghouse Electric's West Coast engineering and sales staff and currently housing medical offices. There have been pictures available of 600 from its Parkinson years for some time, but we'd found none from after the architect's tenure on St. Paul Avenue. It was then by chance that we came across a small item in the Los Angeles Times of March 15, 1925, mentioning that master house mover George R. Kress would begin operations the next week to move the Parkinson house to an unspecified "outlying residential district"; house moving was routine during the '20s, it often being more economical, when streets were widened or trade threatened to intrude, to move one's home than to build something new. Then we stumbled upon the picture seen above in an unrelated story in the Times of July 25, 1926, not identified in the text but recognizable to us and presumably from the time of the move...here was not an earthquake or flood or tornado casualty, but a distinctive house in the process of being moved off its corner perch, visual confirmation that the Parkinson house must have had a second act. Before discovering firmer evidence of the move, we wondered if Parkinson himself might have taken his house with him when he left St. Paul Avenue in 1915 for 688 Wilshire Place, situated just below the famous boulevard that was then still thoroughly residential but that by 1929 would be in the shadow of his own Bullock's-Wilshire store. (As an architect, Parkinson was in a position to grasp demographic trends ahead of the curve. He sold 688 in March 1920 and moved to Santa Monica, no doubt understanding that Wilshire would eventually be a commercial thoroughfare in short order, all the way, in fact, to the ocean.) Photographs of his house on Wilshire Place, however, reveal a structure with large crossing gables, shapes that are the antithesis of Mission and Prairie styles: more evidence that his old house remained behind on St. Paul. Additional research revealed that the house had its distinguished pedigree bolstered even further after the departure of Parkinson when it became the first home of the Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts, founded by Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn in 1915; the school moved to Westlake Park two years later. In the wake of all this architectural and terpsichorian creativity came the Liberty Club, apparently a facility for demobbed servicemen, which appears to have occupied 600 St. Paul until at least several years after the First World War.
But the question remained: To where might the house have been moved? There had been hope that it might still be standing to the west, most likely along the Sixth Street corridor, perhaps as far west as Hancock Park—though house moves even to Beverly Hills were not unusual. If it did happen to still stand, it was likely to have been altered beyond recognition or it would most certainly be celebrated today by the multitude of Los Angeles architecture aficionados and Parkinson authorities such as Stephen Gee, the title of whose excellent Iconic Vision: John Parkinson, Architect of Los Angeles tells it all. While we had offered the prize of dinner at Romanoff's or Perino's to the first person and his hundred closest friends who found the location of Parkinson's St. Paul Avenue house after its move—who discovered whether it was dead or alive—it seems that we get to treat ourselves: The house John Parkinson built for himself at 600 St. Paul Avenue has been found, even if it turns out to have been lost again, once and for all.
Almost by chance, while researching our project on early residential Wilshire Boulevard, we came across an advertisement in the Times of March 28, 1926, picturing a familiar—and needless to say, distinctive—building at the northeast corner of Lake and Miramar streets. The photograph in the auction ad appears to reveal slight alterations to the house that once stood high up at 600 St. Paul Avenue, at least in terms of its entrance stairs. Then surfaced further "clews" (as the word was often spelled once upon a time): In a tiny item in the Times of January 25, 1925, it was noted that our moving man George Kress had just trundled a large house to Lake and Miramar from 626 South Alvarado Street, which would have been seven weeks before his removal of the Parkinson house to the same locale was reported; on March 1, the paper announced the construction of the building at 626 South Alvarado today, the Hotel Park Vista (later the Palms Wilshire). As it turned out, there was a good deal of redevelopment of 17.5 acres at the southwest corner of Alvarado and First streets and south nearly to Third, empty until fairly recently; St. Vincent Hospital was planning its new facility at the southern end, with the northerly section zoned residential. At any rate, with its provenance probably by now forgotten, John Parkinson's 1901 home had found a new life as apartments, very likely for the staff of the new medical facility just across Miramar. The house would have about as many years in its new location as it did in its first: In late 1949, St. Vincent's pursual of zoning variances for the blocks to its north sounded the death knell for 268 South Lake Street, which appears to still stand, if fuzzily, in high-altitude 1948 images. In the spring of 1952, the hospital's new, and still-extant, building for its College of Nursing opened on its site. It seems unlikely that the onetime 600 St. Paul Avenue had been moved a second time.
|A circa-1913 photograph of 688 Wilshire Place reveals that Parkinson did not move his|
old house from St. Paul Avenue to his new address. Curiously, while the architect is
listed at 688 in Los Angeles city directories from 1915 through 1920, an item in
the Southwest Contractor and Manufacturer of January 13, 1917, describes
the architect as "preparing plans for a 2-story, 8-room English-style
residence for himself on Wilshire Place." The date is puzzling,
but so is, to some degree, Parkinson's seeming departure
from the modernity of 600 St. Paul. Perhaps he was
wisely considering resale value in a new district
largely dominated by faux antiquity.
317 South Vermont Avenue
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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.
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