3101 Wilshire Boulevard

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Looking more like something flown in from East Hampton or Cape Cod, the Dutch Colonial house built in 1907 at 3101 Wilshire Boulevard clearly reflects the Yankee sensibilities of its principal architect rather than the Midwestern roots of his partner and the family that commissioned it. As related in the story of 2515 Wilshire, the driving force behind the Los Angeles identity of the Neustadts was heiress Effie Gardner Neustadt of the Mississippi River town of Quincy, Illinois. Her father, Robert W. Gardner, had made a fortune by perfecting the fly-ball governor for steam-driven pumping equipment used in the burgeoning oil and gas industries. Coupled with a lifelong passion for building her own houses, Effie also doled out her legacy most generously to her two children. Even before her son Robert Gardner Neustadt's marriage to Altadena Green of Pasadena on March 14, 1907, Effie had presented the couple with not only with a 60-by-170-foot lot in the Shatto Place tract she'd bought from Clara Shatto herself, but the funds to finance a house on it by one of the top architectural firms in the city; the Department of Buildings issued a permit to begin the construction of 3101 on February 20, 1907. Since having designed Effie's own house at 2515 Wilshire five years before, Myron Hunt had partnered with Elmer Grey, another Midwesterner, born in Chicago. Still, it seems that Myron Hunt persuaded Effie and her son to accept what he might have observed on the seacoast of his native Massachusetts: something rather humble in appearance for what was to become, if briefly, the grandest residential street in town. Robert Neustadt was just 21 when he married, and he'd also already formed a business partnership with Charles E. Richards in the Richards-Neustadt Construction Company. The vast real estate holdings inherited by his mother after the death in 1896 of his father, Louis C. Neustadt, provided Effie with the canvas for her building whims; Robert's construction firm brought the plans of the architects she chose for her projects to three dimensions, including 3101. The collaboration appears to have been very tidy and lucrative, especially as repeated in and around the booming City of Angeles.


Hunt & Grey's 3101 Wilshire Boulevard soon after completion in 1907, as compared to 22 years later at
 top: By 1929, Wilshire had been widened, Bullock's-Wilshire was poised to open across
the street that fall, and the residential boulevard was deep into its eclipse.


While Effie Neustadt employed a chauffeur to get her around town, it was she who was most definitely in charge of her family's domestic arrangements, despite the increasing lack of personal mobility that would confine her to a wheelchair. Her impairment did not keep her from pursuing her hobby of building houses; if anything, it seemed to intensify her interest. On the way to building a precociously handicapped-accessible house in Altadena for herself and her son and daughter-in-law, Effie had Hunt & Grey design a palazzo that would stand prominently on the northwest corner of West Adams Street and Western Avenue (seen here), a house seemingly out of character when compared to her usual self-effacing architectural choices; perhaps it was just an early exercise in McMansion spec housing. How long Effie may have lived in the house is unclear, but she sold in 1909, the year after its completion. Also sold that year were her houses at 2515 and 2525 Wilshire; likewise, with the multi-generational Altadena house the next stop for all, Robert and Altadena, apparently unsentimental about wedding presents, likewise disposed of 3101 in late April 1909 to nouveau Angeleno Orra Eugene Monnette and his wife, née Carrie Lucile Janeway, both late of Ohio.


Orra Eugene Monette, circa 1910


After a stint at the Hershey Arms on Wilshire, and before moving to 3101, the younger Monnettes lived in a big mission-style house his father, Mervin J. Monnette, had bought at 951 South Western AvenueAn attorney back in Toledo, Orra had come west in April 1907 at the behest of mining-mogul Mervin, who'd recently made a big-as-the-Ritz bundle speculating in Nevada mines and needed help managing his bounty. Putting his father's bonanza to work, Orra began investing in Southern California banks. After several quick mergers, he became chairman of the Citizens Trust and Savings Bank; after being asked to resign in 1922, he formed the Bank of America, a legendary name that Monnette and his fellow stockholders brought to its merger with Amadeo Giannini's Bank of Italy in 1929. No slouch either when it came to civic matters, Orra Monnette served on numerous committees and was a driving force behind the expansion of the Los Angeles Public Library system. Under his 20-year aegis, the iconic current main library was built downtown, along with another 48 branches.

Monnette was also quite the ancestor-worshipper. He was a member of a dizzying number of organizations dedicated to family lineage, including the Mayflower Descendants (that was one crowded boat), the Huguenot Society, the Baronial Order of Runnemede, the Society of the War of 1812, and was in addition a "son" of this and that society. In 1910 he completed his florid 1,000-page Monnet Family Genealogy, an Emphasis of a Noble Huguenot Heritage. (Noble, naturally; his assumption of nobility even extended to his Boston Terrier, named "Monnet Le Duc.") It seems that Orra might have sometimes held actual living relatives in less lofty regard. Long about 1916, after 21 years of marriage, Lucy filed for, and was granted, a divorce. A nurse, one Anna Downey, was named as the Other Woman. The complaint, as the Los Angeles Times reported delicately, included "an incident at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco, in which Monnette and the co-respondent were alleged to have figured." Lucy's attorney, Neil McCarthy—who lives on as a Polo Lounge salad—didn't have much trouble winning her a large settlement.

Los Angeles newspapers covered the personal and business aspects of Monnette's affairs extensively. A year after his divorce, Orra remarried, but his new wife, rather than being Nurse Downey, was Helen Kull, who had been his secretary. One child and five years later, Helen sued for divorce, citing cruelty in her complaint, along with another of her husband's former secretaries, one Myrtle Cooper. The directors of the Citizens Trust and Savings were not amused; the comings and goings of the wives of Mervin J. Monnette during the teens—Orra's father was also an officer of Citizens—were a recent memory and can't have helped the family image, despite generations of alleged illustriousness. The board, less interested in noble heritage and more concerned with the effects of odious behavior on an institution promoting thrift and industry, accepted Orra's resignation. Helen came around, perhaps under pressure and thinking long and hard about her daughter and what might be her prospects as an impecunious divorcée. In an apparent bid for damage control, the couple issued a statement delineating newfound relations of "mutual love, confidence, and esteem"; Monnette's bid for reinstatement at Citizens was nevertheless rejected. After he threatened to sue, the Times reported on October 8, 1922, the announcement of bank president and new chairman Arthur J. Waters that his board considered the matter closed; in sweet revenge, Monnette and his father moved on to organize the original Bank of America by the end of the year.

It was in the wake of his marital disaster in 1916 that 3101 Wilshire had come under new ownership. The boulevard, even as it moved closer to its decade of transition to commercial use, could still attract the Big Swinging Dicks of Los Angeles.


Ferdinand Randall Bain, circa 1910


By all accounts, Ferdinand Randall Bain, born in Upstate New York in 1861, was as big of a Big Swinging Dick as Poughkeepsie ever saw. At one time he owned and was president and general manager of the Poughkeepsie street railway system. Later he was president of Poughkeepsie Gas and Electric. He was a bank director, and he had a large interest in an entire square block of downtown Manhattan. According to his biography, he became recognized as a leading figure in New York State utility, banking, and railroad circles. After 1904 Bain reduced his business activities and began to travel—an attempt at early retirement, much like William E. Hampton of 2515 Wilshire. Apparently he was given to leaving his wife, Hattie, and their three daughters behind in Dutchess County, and, it seems, he finally left for good. Though appearing to base himself on Wall Street, he was at least nominally living at home in Poughkeepsie as late as 1910. Yet the next year, there was a new Mrs. Bain, a widow by the name of Gertrude Benchley Miller. There was also Santa Barbara—a combination of a lady and a landscape that was a far cry from Dutchess County and the grimy canyons of Lower Manhattan. Hattie and the girls were toast. While the climate and the glamour may have been seductive, Santa Barbara society no doubt proved stultifying after a while; Ferdinand began to look for new business challenges. (Not that he was unsociable—he retained membership in numerous clubs, among them the California and the Los Angeles Country clubs, as well as the very exclusive Downtown of New York.) Long about 1912 he discovered that the towns south of Los Angeles were in need of better gas service. Taking over the delivery systems of Anaheim, Fullerton, and Santa Ana, he began in short order to create the Southern Counties Gas Company, of which he became president and a large stakeholder. When not home in Montecito, which seems to have been most of the time, Bain based himself at the Hotel Alexandria in Los Angeles and then at Fullerton. The untimely death of Gertrude in Santa Barbara in 1916 allowed Ferdinand to leave the somnolent resort more or less for good and remain close to the action in L.A. At about this time, Orra E. Monnette, also losing a wife, put 3101 Wilshire on the market. Bain moved in.

Ferdinand apparently lived alone in his big new house, more befitting a large family than the childless owners it always seems to have had. It did, however, befit an man of his station. He lived in the "old" Neustadt-Monnette house for seven years, nose in grief to company grindstone. Long about 1924, he married again, this time to Elizabeth Stoops. By now, the Miracle Mile was in formation, signalling the residential demise of Wilshire Boulevard. Ferdinand decided to cash out of or rent 3101 and move to the country—Overland Avenue near National Boulevard—where he built a hybrid Georgian–Southern Colonial house on his ranch. Though most likely overrun by development almost as quickly as Wilshire turned commercial, the house still stands. By 1940 the Bains had accepted the suburbanization of Westside Los Angeles and retired to Holmby Hills.

The only certain fate of fate of 3101 Wilshire after 1924 is that it eventually disappeared. Ownership after Bain is unclear. Perhaps it was retained by him as a rental property as he awaited an ever higher commercial value. It was apparently used as such well into the Depression. In November 1929 the Mozumdar Fellowship—a sect involving swamis—moved into 3101 and conducted services advertised weekly in the Times. Very close to end, it housed one of the many ladies'-wear shops clustered around Bullock's-Wilshire, one in this case run by Corinne Martin. The Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit for 3101 on July 26, 1934; today, like their houses at 2515 and 2525, the one the Neustadts built at 3101 Wilshire Boulevard has given way to a parking lot.


Late 1928: With excavations underway for the towering new Bullock's-Wilshire, the days of residential
Wilshire Boulevard—including 3101, seen at far right in the distance—were numbered.




Illustrations: Private CollectionThe American ArchitectGoogle Books