2515 Wilshire Boulevard
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Native Missourian Louis C. Neustadt married flyball-governor heiress Effie Gardner of Quincy, Illinois, on Halloween in 1878; their daughter Edith was born the next year and their son, Robert Gardner Neustadt, on the Fourth of July, 1885. Upon his marriage Louis became associated with his father-in-law, Robert W. Gardner, who had made a fortune developing an improved type of engine regulator and other equipment needed by the emerging oil- and gas-producing industries. While Neustadt was still serving as secretary and treasurer of the Gardner Governor Company at the time of his death in 1896, it appears that his true calling was 1,600 miles to the west in Los Angeles. Though maintaining a household in Quincy, the Neustadts began to establish at least a wintertime presence in Southern California, Mr. Neustadt becoming associated with John A. Pirtle in real estate and securities speculation in L.A. as early as April 1889. Despite the economic upheavals of the '90s, the rise of the oil industry had a positive effect on the Neustadts' investment purse. Following Louis's demise, Effie began to transition to full-time life on the West Coast, fueled by her share of the proceeds of her family's business in Quincy and her husband's dealings in L.A. real estate, to which Mrs. Neustadt seems to have paid particular attention. Maintaining a series of seasonal local households, including 1217 West 23rd Street followed by 823 South Bonnie Brae, Effie gained entrée into the hoity-toitiest houses in town. Once she established herself and her children in Los Angeles permanently, the widow Neustadt chose a boulevard meant, before its later commercialization, to rival West Adams Street in domestic opulence.
The Los Angeles Times reported on July 5, 1903, that Caroline Bumiller Hickey had just sold Effie an unimproved 150-by-150-foot lot at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Coronado Street. The eager new owner had engagedMyron Hunt—already in demand during his first year in the city—to design an 11-room house for her on the east half of the lot, to be addressed 2515 Wilshire Boulevard. As described by the Times, the plan was for a dwelling "in an architectural style typical of the Elizabethan." While its interior arrangements were projected to be "thoroughly modern," heavy beams as a design feature suggest a dark interior—Southern Californians, especially those newly arrived from the Midwest and East, were slow to discover the light and air that lay outside their doors. Which is not to say that 2515 itself would ever give up its place in the sun—it hasn't, as we shall see.
|A glimpse of 2515 Wilshire is seen here just west of Dr. Henderson Hayward's 2501|
Mrs. E. M. Neustadt, as Effie would be styled in accounts of her real estate and social activities, moved into 2515 with Edith and the high-spirited Robert in 1904. Real estate speculation by nature seems to breed restlessness if not recklessness—or is it just having a lot of money? Robert appears to have been hauled into court on several occasions on charges of reckless driving, usually defending himself arrogantly; but then he was barely 20, spoiled, and could afford a powerful machine (in later years it would be reckless polo and marriage-management, although these were beyond his tenure on Wilshire Boulevard).
Both Edith and Robert were married while still living at 2515, Edith in San Francisco in October 1904 to stock-and-bond broker Luther Herbert Green, brother of Beverly Hills developer Burton E. Green. The couple settled in Los Angeles at 2525 Wilshire, which Effie built next to her own house on half of her original lot. The Greens had two children, Effie and Robert. Edith died in 1908; Luther would be murdered in 1927 on the lawn of his house at 1053 South Bonnie Brae Street 1927 by gangsters seeking the $10,000 stash of prewar booze he kept in his cellar.
As for Robert Neustadt, the timeline is confusing, if one considers that he was somehow, before online education, also matriculating 3,000 miles away at Princeton (class of 1908, per his 1934 New York Times obituary). According to other records, he was at the same time getting his professional feet wet in partnership with Charles E. Richards in the Pacific Cement Waterproofing Company in Los Angeles, which by 1907 had become the Richards-Neustadt Construction Company. Despite Robert's young age, he seems to have done well with his mother's money—there were a number of lots in fashionable precincts bought by Effie, improved by Robert, and sold to their mutual benefit. On March 14, 1907, 21-year-old Robert married the apparently geographically-named
Altadena Green (not known to have had a twin named Pasadena and apparently no relation to her new brother-in-law). The ceremony was held at 2515 rather than in his bride's hometown of Pasadena due to the recent ill health of the groom's mother. Commensurate with her means, Effie gave the couple a lot a half-mile to the west on Wilshire, throwing in the funds for Myron Hunt, now partnered with Elmer Grey, to design a house on it as a wedding present. This was to become 3101 Wilshire Boulevard.
|Perhaps just an exercise in a bold new mode, consummate planner and builder Effie Neustadt|
had Hunt & Grey design this house once standing prominently at the northwest corner
of Adams and Western, sold a year after completion to J. T. Fitzgerald.
Five years in one house was an eternity to Effie Neustadt. As her 1914 Los Angeles Times obituary has it, "Her passion was the building of splendid homes. Each of these she would occupy for a time and then build another, still finer, in some other part of her extensive real estate holdings." After deciding to leave 2515 Wilshire in 1908, Effie would have Myron Hunt build her an altogether different and much, much bigger house than those he'd designed for her on Wilshire Boulevard. Set high above terraced gardens, a grand, symmetrical (and now long-gone) petit trianon-ish house—in vogue with the Los Angeles rich of the period—rose at the northwest corner of Adams Street and Western Avenue; she would sell it to music dealer J. T. Fitzgerald just a year later. It seems that Effie, though still just in her 50s, was now confined to a wheelchair and in need of ramps. After selling 2443 South Western Avenue to Fitzgerald, she built a house at 1050 East Mariposa Street in Altadena, reportedly built to accommodate the rolling Effie. While she had built her first house in Los Angeles with Myron Hunt as her architect, and had used him again, after his partnering with Elmer Grey, for Robert's Wilshire Boulevard house and then for Western Avenue, after the architects dissolved their partnership late in 1909 she went with Grey alone for her Altadena house, which still stands. According to her obituary, at the time of her death on July 17, 1914, she had just completed "the fourth, most magnificent of them all" on five acres in the Oak Knoll section of Pasadena.
The plan that evolved was for Effie and her son and daughter-in-law to move together to the new house in Altadena. Robert and Altadena sold 3101 Wilshire in April 1909; that same month, Luther H. Green, acting as broker, sold 2525 on the west half of his mother-in-law's original Wilshire lot to Timothy Wilfred Coakley, a well-known though apparently mentally unstable Boston attorney. Manufacturer William Edward Hampton would soon acquire 2515.
A man of that certain postbellum American drive, William E. Hampton, born on August 8, 1852, began his career as a teenager in central Illinois, eventually becoming a highly successful dry-goods merchant. He was much less successful in his attempt to retire early to the Pacific Coast in 1886. Having grown restless after a few years spent traveling, he settled in San Francisco and restarted his career in a new direction. He built a plant in his new hometown to manufacture "non-shrinking" wooden water tanks and those used in the mining industry. Eventually, Hampton established branches up and down the West Coast, including one in Los Angeles, to which he moved in 1898. Adding to a reputation that would have him later called a "lumber king," Hampton extended his manufacturing activities by organizing the highly successful Pacific Planing Mill Company; there seems to have been little that the man failed at save his attempt to retire at an early age.
|The modest look of great success:|
William E. Hampton, circa 1912.
In addition to attending to his businesses, Hampton found time to hold directorships in at least a half-dozen other enterprises, including several banks. He was also active in civic organizations, among them the Special Harbor Committee charged with exploring the development of the port of Los Angeles in anticipation of the opening of the Panama Canal. As a mover and shaker, Hampton was naturally elected a member of the top clubs of the muckety-muck class, including the California, Jonathan, and Los Angeles Country clubs.
|Always hiding, photographically and here under a heavy coat of neglect despite being occupied: 2515 Wilshire Boulevard as it stood in 1935. The Hayward Building at far right has replaced |
2501, and a filling station is now on the site of even more pictorially elusive 2525.
Hampton was not without a wife during the years of building. He'd married an Illinois girl, Frances Wilhoit, in 1880. The couple seems to have had no children; Frances ran a quiet household on Wilshire Boulevard, entertaining at home with the occasional "bridge-tea" both before and after her husband's death in 1928. Thirty-three years after moving into 2515, Frances died there on January 3, 1943, apparently already living in a shroud of vines. Today, the lot Effie Neustadt bought in 1903 and on which she built both 2515 and 2525 Wilshire is given over to—what else?—parking; while 2525 was demolished in 1934, 2515, even though still inhabited until 1943, would languish for six years longer under its heavy coat of ivy and neglect. Improbably, the house was rescued by a contractor named J. Matthew Brown, who saw the potential of the 45-year-old house. On November 11, 1948, he received a permit from the Department of Building and Safety to remove its second floor "in preparation for re-location." Then, on January 26, he took out a permit to move the remains five miles across the city to 3031 Alsace Avenue just north of Jefferson west of La Brea. Brown rebuilt the house into a duplex and rented both units; a subsequent owner applied a "permastone" veneer in 1959 and converted it into a triplex in 1967. The now 112-year-old house remains standing, if with barely a clue as to its origins. One indicator, aside from the fact that no demolition permit has ever been issued for 3031 Alsace, is its left front bay window, which can be made out in the illustration at top that originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on March 13, 1904.