3100 Wilshire Boulevard


While most of the houses on early Wilshire Boulevard were built by the usual stripe of turn-of-the-20th-century American businessmen, there was on occasion one erected by an individual who actually had a talent for something more creative than paper transactions. Reuben Shettler was one such man; it could even be said that there would be no Los Angeles as we know it without him, because without him there might have been no practical friction clutch, and thus no automobiles. His fortune derived from the 1890 patent of his significant and crucial driveline improvement; with the royalties, and after enough of the chilly climes of his native England, his upstate New York boyhood, and Michigan, where he worked for years alongside Ransom E. Olds in Lansing, he was ready for a place in the Southern California sun. Hunt, Eager & Burns designed it for him on a lot at the southwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Westmoreland Avenue. The Department of Buildings issued Shettler a permit to begin construction on June 5, 1908.

Reuben Shettler, circa 1895

Born in London on January 17, 1853, Reuben Shettler emigrated with his parents to a farm near Canadaigua in the northern Finger Lakes district of New York State. In the same way that the drudgery of farm work inspired Henry Ford, born 10 years later, to look for more and better ways to get machinery to do the work, Shettler's farm experience and mechanical aptitude led him to improve the thresher and then to manufacture his own version in Michigan. His development of the friction clutch and its application to farm equipment took a slight turn when he met Ransom Olds after a move to Lansing and he became interested less in farm equipment and more in the nascent idea of personal transport. By 1888 Shettler was partnered with Olds in a manufacturing venture, which eventually became the renowned Olds Motor Works, later producers of the Oldsmobile. After differences with other investors in the Works, Shettler and Olds left the organization to found the R.E.O. Motor Car Company in 1904 to great success. Shettler could now retire from manufacturing and cold climes on top. A first trip to Southern California in 1895 and subsequent lengthy vacations had primed Shettler and his wife, native Michigander Sarah Thorpe, to settle permanently in Los Angeles by 1905, taking up residence with their son Leon, now 24, and Mrs. Shettler's mother, Frances Willis, at 765 South Hoover. After several years the urge to build came upon the Shettlers, leading to the purchase in March 1908 of the 150-by-150-foot lot on which they would build 3100 Wilshire. It was a safe design in the English mode of at least every second and third house built in prosperous precincts of Los Angeles at the time, almost to the point of becoming architecturally boring. (Suggestive of an ancient, nondesert land, the style served to bolster the social insecurities of new Angelenos; in Shettler's case, he at least had claim to having been born in England.) Shettler's version was a commodious five-bedroom house, complete with the de rigeur beamed-ceilinged billiard room. The roof was of California slates of varying dimensions to add to the manor-house effect. According to the Times there was in addition a faux English garden with pergolas and rose gardens and ponds, completing an ideal suburban Los Angeles estate of the time. West Adams still had the upper hand as the more discreet neighborhood of "Old" Los Angeles; certain newly arrived Easterners preferred the developing stretch of Wilshire Boulevard beyond Hoover for its larger lots and boulevard grandeur.

An architects' rendering of the proposed 3100 Wilshire as it was to be seen
 from the northeast appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 14, 1908.

The Shettlers were in residence in their new house by February 1909, and for the next 16 years there ensued exhausting newspaper coverage of one party after another. These were mostly Sarah's entertainments, purely social occasions as well as those involving her various charitable and literary pursuits—among her clubs were the Ebell, the Friday Morning, and the Ruskin Society. Visitors within weeks of moving in were Mr. and Mrs. Ransom E. Olds of Lansing. Reuben is variously described during these years as "mostly retired" or engaged in various business activities such as bank directorships. But he maintained a strong interest in automobile manufacturing, still heavily invested in REO. He made regular trips back to Lansing, returning to Los Angeles with news of the latest models. Leon had been set up as the REO dealer in the city since before his parents moved west permanently; father and son tirelessly promoted automobiling with well-publicized touring events for years.

Mid 1928: The Wilshire Special streetlamp was just installed during a major boulevard widening and
improvement project. The Busch house at 3124, in place since the '90s, has been moved from
the lot in the foreground; Shatto Place at right has only recently been cut through south of
Wilshire. Appearing overgrown, the Shettler house would be gone within a few months,
having been used in recent years for commercial purposes. Just getting underway
at left beyond the trees are the massive excavations for the game-changing
241-foot-tall Bullock's-Wilshire, which would open in September 1929.

By the mid-'20s, Wilshire's day as a residential boulevard were all but done. Bullock's-Wilshire would be opening across Westmoreland from 3100 by 1929. While builders of the early houses along the thoroughfare weren't to understand what a wise investment they were making in buying property along it—they were perhaps assuming much more in the way of permanence for their expensive dwellings—by mid-decade most of them were probably thrilled with the return on their initial investment even if they had to move. A few householders took their houses with them; most were content with building new mansions in newer styles in less linear neighborhoods. The Shettlers moved on to a new Wilshire District house. Whatever they decided not to take with them to 705 South Serrano Avenue was disposed of in an auction in September 1925. 

The departure of the Shettlers from 3100 was announced by
 an advertisement in the Times on September 23, 1925.

Eventually Reuben and Sarah would divide their time between Los Angeles and a house in Palm Springs. The couple remained popular into their dotage. Mrs. Shettler in particular continued to pursue club activities with a vengeance. So devoted was she to the Ebell that along with Mrs. Nicholas Rice, once of 2520 Wilshire Boulevard, she donated an elevator to the club in 1932. Reuben lived into his 88th year, dying at home on Serrano Avenue on June 14, 1942. Leon had died in Los Angeles two years earlier on September 5, 1940, according to the Times and the next year according to the inscription on the elaborate gold Shettler crypt at Forest Lawn. Sarah joined her husband and son there after she died on July 12, 1946 at the age of 84.

The Shettlers were the only noncommercial residents of the 3100 Wilshire; "Captainess"
(and amateur plastic surgeon) Irene Hobson opened a shop in the house in 1927
as did a Los Angeles sales office for the new development of Dana Point. The
ads above appeared in the Times on March 2 and April 20, respectively.

It appears that 3100 Wilshire Boulevard was converted to commercial use soon after the departure of the Shettlers. Moving in by early 1927 was Irene Hobson, who sometimes spelled her name "Irehne" and who managed to operate 
successfully a number of shops along Wilshire for many years beyond an incident in 1930 when a customer was blinded by a facelift. (There is no evidence of her having had any medical training.) Briefly a tenant in the house was the Los Angeles sales office for Dana Point, a new seaside development 60 miles south of the city; the office moved across the street to 3043 Wilshire after the Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit for the 20-year-old old Shettler house on October 8, 1928. The Depression delayed redevelopment until the large L-shaped commercial building now on the site was completed in 1939.

Gone by the start of the decade, the site of the
Shettler house remained vacant for much of the '30s. Built   

there in 1939 was the current low-scale, angled-roof commercial building 
of a style that became almost a Wilshire Boulevard trademark
before glass highrises began appearing in the '50s. 

Illustrations: USCDL; A History of CaliforniaLATLAPL; Google Street View