3043 Wilshire Boulevard


Walter Harrison Fisher was your standard-issue Los Angeles plutocrat of the early 20th century. Born in Illinois and raised in Nebraska, he was described by his son in his obituary as having arrived in the city in 1894 with his wife, three children, and five dollars in his pocket. Despite his apparent penury, Fisher managed on arrival to open an office for the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company in the new Bradbury Building on Broadway. As with any commodity on the market in the booming Southland, sales of insurance policies were excellent; before long, Fisher's profits allowed him to expand his business into stocks and bonds and into oil. His investment in a Long Beach well paid off in a gusher soon after the turn of the century.

After a lot of hard work and several changes of home address including a stint on unfashionable Santee Street, it was time to loosen the purse strings and truly arrive in Los Angeles. On February 16, 1905, the Herald reported the sale of no fewer than four prime lots at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Miami (later Westmoreland) Avenue to Walter Fisher. Up went a dwelling very similar in appearance to the Elizabeth Nash house finished around the same time a block east at 3001 Wilshire.

Elizabeth Holmes Fisher by Dario Rappaport, 1939

While perhaps a bit too unsmiling to be considered convivial enough by top-drawer Los Angeles, the Fishers did their best for the next twenty years to exemplify the haute bourgeoisie. There were the usual mentions in social columns of various entertainments and club meetings. Elizabeth Fisher appears to have understood which side her bread was buttered on (and how it was through her husband's efforts that she came to be living in a big house on Wilshire Boulevard): A woman's place was in the home; suffrage was for men only, she believed. Walter Fisher belonged to the Athletic Club, the family to the Los Angeles Country Club and the First Methodist Church. Elizabeth, in accord with her new status as a well-to-do matron, became a pillar of the Ebell Club rather than the W.C.T.U., although she didn't approve of booze any more than she did of women having the vote. Let's just say that the parties at 3043 were likely dull affairs, reflecting propriety, not sophistication. The Fishers had three children, two daughters and a son. Their eldest, Rachel, was married and divorced and married again; before their divorce, she and her second husband, Alonzo M. Fayram, lived at 401 South Windsor Boulevard in Windsor Square, one of the westerly suburbs that had supplanted residential Wilshire Boulevard.

Walter Fisher worked hard all his life, perhaps too hard. Two months after he sold his oil interests to the General Petroleum Company in order to retire, he died at home on June 6, 1926. Hailed as a pioneer in the Signal Hill and Athens oil fields, a veritable Doheny, the five dollars he arrived with had become $5,000,000 on his departure from the mortal coil of Los Angeles.

Circa 1930: Bullock's-Wilshire was now across the street, the Town House just to the
east. The unique Wilshire Special street lamps now lined the boulevard through the
Miracle Mile to Fairfax Avenue: Commerce now ruled. Interim uses for the street's
old houses included restaurants, beauty parlors, dress shops, and sales offices. 

By the mid '20s, the die had been cast as to the future of Wilshire Boulevard, and the big houses, the wood of which was barely beyond green, were entering an interim phase of awkward commercial uses before demolition. Elizabeth Fisher appears to have left 3043 a year or so after her husband died. The house very soon became the Los Angeles sales office for Dana Point, the deluxe new oceanside development 60 miles south of the city. The Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit for 3043 on October 17, 1930; the house was almost immediately replaced with a multi-unit commercial structure.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth spent a few years up the street in an apartment at the Talmadge before spying an ad in the Times for a $75,000 house in Beverly Hills in 1930—big houses were apparently a source of comfort, apartments too small, and the burgeoning traffic of Wilshire too much. Now calling herself Mrs. Walter Harrison Fisher and living among movie stars, one wonders if she loosened up in her widowhood. At any rate, she seems no longer to have been out marching against freedom or pleasure but rather seeking a lovely life in luxurious districts, which is not to say self-indulgent. It turned out that her sophistication lay in her eye: Beginning in 1928 at the age of 61, she began collecting English and Dutch masters not just for herself, but as a project that she hoped would help build the cultural resources of Los Angeles. It was her belief that "Art and music are two great constructive forces that we must respect and cherish. They are a solace to men and women in the midst of a troubled world. In times of fear, ugliness and waste we turn to the artist." After becoming the first woman on the board of trustees of the University of Southern California, she donated 29 paintings to the school to seed in great style the Elizabeth Holmes Fisher Gallery, opened in 1939.

After selling her Beverly Hills house to none other than Artie Shaw, who brought Ava Gardner to live with him there, Elizabeth wound up in Santa Barbara, where she died in 1955. While buried at Forest Lawn, her true legacy is what is now the USC Fisher Museum of Art, a hidden jewel of the city at 823 Exposition Boulevard. 

Illustrations: USCDLUSC Fisher Museum of Art