818 West Adams Boulevard


Bostonian Charles H. Capen had been a visitor to Southern California for many winters; once he decided to retire to the coast, he went all-out on a house on what was, along with South Figueroa Street, one of the two most impressive residential thoroughfares in Los Angeles. At the time—the house was completed by the spring of 1891 to the plans of architects William O. Merithew and Walter Ferris—Capen's new house was on what was called West Adams Street. By the time the street was upgraded to "Boulevard" in the 1920s, the district was fading. Fashion was fleeing the area for more modern suburbs to the north and west. Saavy West Adamsites realized that they were sitting on gold mines as the population of Los Angeles exploded after World War I; they would either add fire escapes and convert their aging barns into apartments, or replace them altogether with new multi-unit housing to provide the cash for new digs elsewhere that didn't reek of Victorian excess. Indeed, Capen's extravaganza was hopelessly old-fashioned by the time it was barely a decade old, with complicated vertical architecture giving way to smooth horizontal, at least in terms of housing. By the '20s, and certainly by the '30s, all that imbrication and shingling and complicated woodwork had become a nightmare to maintain—enter stucco boxes. Eight-eighteen West Adams managed to survive until 1956; after a demolition permit was issued on August 10th of that year, it joined the long parade of Victorian architecture to the graveyard.

Possibly all was not lost: The elaborate porch entrance of
the Capen house may survive today in Sierra Madre. It seems that
the producers of the 1942 Barbara Stanwyck film The Great Man's Lady
had chosen the now-well-known Pinney house in that nearby city as a location,
but had in mind a more elaborate porch. It could be that, although a demolition
permit for 818 West Adams wasn't issued until 1956, its porch may have
already been expropriated—either literally, or by studio carpenters
who carefully duplicated it for location filming.

A wider view reveals the original open-ditch zanja water delivery
system of Los Angeles, which ran to West Adams from north of today's
downtown south along Figueroa and then west on Adams Street. Decommissioned
for more modern and sanitary underground pipes in 1901, a dry remnant still
exists near the site of the Capen house at the surviving sidewalk entrance
of the Frank Sabichi house once at 2427 South Figueroa Street.

Illustrations: LAPL; Kansas Sebastian; Bill Coburn/Sierra Madre News;
Google Street View