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