655 Wilshire Place

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On March 6, 1907, the Los Angeles Department of Buildings issued a permit to manufacturer Albert R. Maines to have a house built at the southwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Wilshire Place, one to be oriented east and addressed 655 Wilshire Place. While the permit indicates that the architecture firm involved was "Dennis & Farrell," the intention was to name on the document the in-demand designers Oliver Dennis & Lyman Farwell. Maines would be described in his 1921 Times obituary as a pioneer furniture dealer—he was in fact a manufacturer and wholesaler of upholstered goods in particular—and an automobile dealer. Although it appears that he did briefly get into cars, the wheeled vehicles he dealt in were primarily bicycles. Apparently, now in his 50s, Maines decided to close A. R. Maines Manufacturing to devote his time to mining and real estate speculation rather than entering the competitive four-wheel market in a big way, and having done well personally, to invest in a new house of his own. Maines added a garage to his project at 655 Wilshire Place in the fall of 1907, this time employing the building firm of Burck-Gwynn, partially owned by his next-door neighbor, Lawrence B. Burck of 665.

As perhaps might not have been uncommon among Los Angeles's city builders at the turn of the 20th century—much covered as they were in the press for their material as well as business and social successes, stars of their day—A. R. Maines was the victim of a pair of grifters who entangled him in an odd extortion and blackmail scheme to relieve him of some of his hard-earned cash. In July 1900, John Slovinksi—described by Maines in news reports as "a small, thin-faced man with a Mephistophelean beard"—and Henrietta, his wife ("large...dark-complexioned and plain"), began to stalk Maines from Garvanza to Catalina, having cooked up a plan in which Slovinski cornered Maines and falsely accused him of seducing his wife. At gunpoint, Maines was forced by the Slovinskis to sign checks for $15,000 or be exposed. Slovinski was arrested but, after much denial and after as much press coverage as comes with today's celebrity scandals, killed himself shortly after the courtroom case began. (Charges against Henrietta were dropped and she left the city.)


Latter days: A side view of 655 Wilshire Place taken toward the southeast from the boulevard in 1928


As were many Los Angeles real estate investors, Albert R. Maines was not given to seeing his own house so much as a home but as a commodity. In November 1909, less than three years after he built 655 Wilshire Place, Maines bought a house on Kingsley Drive in Wellington Place, one of the many new tracts opening a mile and more west along the Wilshire corridor, where a saavy real estate mind would have known that values were drawing the establishment, even if the commercialization of the closer-in boulevard was still a decade off. Enter the "Oil Queen," the remarkable Emma Summers, who just wanted to get away from the derricks that had made her rich but now covered her old Fort Moore neighborhood.

Seeming to care no more for establishment society than it for she, Emma Summers had come west from Kentucky with her carpenter husband, Alpha Columbus Summers, in the '80s. He mitered and nailed while Emma taught piano and invested $700 of her earnings in prospective wells after Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield struck black gold in their neighborhood amid what became the Los Angeles City Oil Field. In a period sexist way, The Call of San Francisco described Emma on July 21, 1901, as "A woman with a genius for affairs—it may sound paradoxical, but the fact exists. If Mrs. Emma A. Summers were less than a genius she could not, as she does today, control the Los Angeles oil markets." Such a backhanded compliment was not holding her back in any case. With her mounting royalties, Emma bought property and built buildings, including the Queen Apartments down the street from her old house on California Street at Fort Moore Hill. Keeping it all in the family, the building permit for the Queen was taken out in her niece's name. Virginia Parker was Emma's sister Callie's daughter, both of whom along with Mrs. Summers would eschew apartment living for sumptuous and roomy 655 Wilshire Place. Virginia married her husband George S. Sisson in the family's new house on September 14, 1910. Alpha, for his part, appears to have remained behind in the Summerses' California Street cottage; by 1912, the Los Angeles city directory would have him there and Emma at 655 wilshire Place, now, it appears, the "wid of A.C. Summers" despite the fact that Alpha was very much alive. (He would go on calling himself a carpenter in city directories and to remarry and live for many years at Fort Moore Hill; the "widow" notation for Emma, by the way, was common usage by divorcées to obscure their status if not to subconsciously wish their exes dead.)




Seen fading into the sunset from the northeast across Wilshire,
if barely, 655 Wilshire Place is moments from demolition in 1928. The
vine-covered west gate of the Place is seen at center left; it too would go
when Bullock's-Wilshire rose on the site, as seen below just prior to its opening
in September 1929, with the east Wilshire Place gate still standing. While
 some houses hung on, residential Wilshire Boulevard was over.



Interestingly, perhaps to keep dealings with her male business associates copacetic, Emma claimed when interviewed by the Times in 1911 that she saw no need for women to gain the vote. Such a slight was not holding her back in any case. She wasn't shy in looking out for own interests or battling out disagreements in court, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. On March 7, 1919, the Times reported that $60,000 worth of her paintings had been seized to satisfy a judgment against her that she had failed to pay a woman for sugar stocks she'd bought. Callie and the Sissons appear to have moved elsewhere by 1920, but solitude no more than bare walls or rumors of commerce invading the older stretches of Wilshire Boulevard (all of 20 or so years old) would cause Emma to leave 655. She retained ownership and a directory listing at 655 up to the 1928 edition, no doubt understanding that the house was an investment with great potential even if the neighborhood was fast losing its residential cachet. Even as early as 1922, some nearby boulevard houses had been given over to trade; by mid-decade, there were dozens of shops and beauty parlors and tearooms just doors away. While no demolition permit has yet been found, it appears that 655 lasted until 1928 when almost the entire block between Wilshire Place and Westmoreland Avenue, from the Wilshire to Seventh Street, was cleared in anticipation of the new Bullock's-Wilshire store, its tower something like a tombstone for the residential boulevard but at the same time a celebration of the new. Just 21 years old, 655 Wilshire Place was bulldozed for Los Angeles's vaunted warp–speed progress.



Illustrations: Sunset; USCDLCSLLAPL