2721 Wilshire Boulevard


Entering the fierce whirlwind of Los Angeles real estate wheelings and dealings on the strength of entertainment industry profits should not seem unsual—unless perhaps it was done before Hollywood, as in the movies, existed. Gilbert E. Gardner was an especially pulchritudinous stage actor associated with Oliver Morosco, who had moved his troop down from San Francisco in 1899 to take over the lease of the Burbank Theater downtown on Main Street. Along the way to establishing himself as a noted performer and stage director, Gardner married the equally pretty actress Ida Gertrude Banning, whose family had made a social name for itself in Southern California as well as a fortune, one derived from another kind of stage. The Bannings played a major role in the development of the region, pioneering in horse-drawn transportation of people and freight from the coastal towns—later annexed to the city—of San Pedro and Wilmington to inland Los Angeles. Ida became especially successful on the Morosco stage as well as with other troupes. While the couple's earnings no doubt needed a venue for growth, it also seems likely that the Banning connection influenced Gilbert's turn to real estate speculation after he married into the family. And, of course, he and his bride needed a place to live.

The Gardner-Smith house seemed taller as viewed from Lafayette (née Sunset) Park in 1921

The Gardners' recent acquisition of a lot at the northeast corner of Wilshire and Benton boulevards overlooking Sunset Park—to be renamed Lafayette Park in 1919—was reported by the Herald on August 10, 1902. On July 31, 1904, the Times reported that Gardner had been issued a building permit for a 12-room house to be built on the lot. While their thespian pursuits continued, the Gardners lived at 2721 Wilshire for the next five years. The house was described as being of Moorish design, with arched porches around the west and south sides. Gardner retained his position as director at the Burbank until August 1909, when he resigned to pursue "outside business ventures"—presumably, real estate: After building a number of houses in the neighborhood, by 1912 he had become the vice-president of the California Realty Company. Two months after resigning his position with Morosco, he and Ida sold their corner house and moved to one they had built next door at 2715, seen at far right in the image at top; 2721 for a short time became the property of German-Mexican miner, miller, and banker Miguel Latz, who, perhaps in anticipation of the coming Revolution, appears to have been seeking a foothold in the United States should he decide to leave his home in Magdalena, Sonora.

The tower of 2721 is seen peeking in front of the Bryson, opened next door in January 1913

Latz was arrested on federal charges in July 1918 after correspondence with German officials—as well as a German flag and a picture of the Kaiser—were found in his home. He was long gone from Wilshire Boulevard by this time, however, now living at 1200 West Adams Street, with 2721 Wilshire having by late 1911 come into the possession of Mr. Pearl Hawley Smith, a native Iowan who had made a fortune in coal mining, and his wife Blanche. An auction of the contents of 2721 in April 1920 signaled the departure of the Smiths, and of the house; on October 22, 1921, the Department of Buildings issued Rudolf F. Pieper a permit to move it north across the park to Lot 13, Block A of the Occidental Park Tract. Two years later, presumably for investment, Pieper moved a second house to Lot 14 just to his south, this one from Parkview and Seventh streets. Pieper, the president of Peiper Brothers bakery supplies, was still at 517 South Occidental until he died in 1926. That year, the Precious Blood Catholic Church had been completed just next door to the south; the institution acquired Pieper's second house for use as its Sunday school. Real estate operator Earl D. Hammack acquired 517, which was renumbered 421 within a few years. Subsequent owners were Miss Florence Crane and then Mrs. Bessie Moore, who converted the house into a duplex in 1949; eventually it was acquired by the church on the corner, which was issued a demolition permit on May 29, 1974, to replace what was once 2721 Wilshire Boulevard with the parking lot for its new parish hall. It was until 2021 that a new building began to be planned for the site; by the fall of 2023 an apartment building, one respectful of the nearly iconic Bryson next door, was nearing completion. 

Both the site of the Gardner house at the northeast corner of Wilshire and Lafayette Park Place
(above) and its later location on Occidental Boulevard became parking lots. In the title
image, a street sign at right indicates Benton Boulevard; after Sunset Park was
officially renamed Lafayette in 1919, Benton below Sixth Street became
the southerly continuation of Lafayette Park Place, the roadway
of which above Sixth was formerly Andrews Boulevard.
A new 2721 Wilshire, an apartment building,
was being built on the site of the
Gardner/Latz house
in 2023.

Illustrations: LAPLNHM; GSV