3558 Wilshire Boulevard
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From wherever a clever investor got his capital in early-20th-century Los Angeles, it seems he could strike real estate gold. Shelley H. Tolhurst found his seed money in pulled molars; a longtime dentist and by standards of the day a pioneer Angeleno, having arrived from St. Louis in 1881, he bought and sold property in the city regularly for years, enough to have been able to throw away the drill and live on investment income by 1910. A resident of West Adams from the time of that district's early development, he appears to have understood that fashion and fortune in Los Angeles was moving to the northwest soon after the turn of the century; while still more prairie-like than verdant, the Wilshire District was well on its way to eclipsing the leafy older neighborhoods southwest of downtown. In September 1913, he bought a 90-by-150-foot site at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Ardmore, a combination of Lot 53 and the easterly 40 feet of Lot 52 of the Wilshire Harvard Heights tract. Top architects Hunt & Burns were hired to build a 12-room residence and a garage; the Department of Buildings issued permits for the house on December 22. The Tolhursts oversaw construction from a rented house just south at 662 South Ardmore, where, in an incident that might have given them pause about their new neighborhood, they became victims of a porchclimber who made off with $400 worth of Mrs. Tolhurst's baubles on November 30. She was later described by the Times as a woman "so essentially feminine, so well dressed, yet, withal, so well informed—one of the cleverest speakers the suffragists have." No shrinking violet, Josefa Tolhurst was a prominent charter member and onetime president of the progressive and very social Friday Morning Club. She was an activist well into old age and died at 91, surviving her husband by nearly 30 years.
|The Tolhurst house was pictured on Wilshire Boulevard in the Los Angeles Times on January 29,|
1922, at the time of its sale to Sol Lesser. At top is the same house, moved in early
early 1924 to 552 South Plymouth Boulevard, where it still stands today.
After nine years at 3558, no doubt sensing that residential trends—while still very much favoring a wide swath that had come to be called the Wilshire District—would soon quickly leave the boulevard itself to business, the Tolhursts sold their house to one of the many Hollywood luminaries who invested their earnings in Los Angeles property. There was Norma Desmond, of course, who famously owned a house at 10086 Sunset Boulevard and "three blocks downtown" in addition to her oil wells in Bakersfield, "pumping pumping, pumping"; Frank Borzage was at 3974; and Louis B. Mayer would buy property a block to the east of 3558 in 1926. As big a name as these was movie producer and exhibitor Sol Lesser, who bought the Tolhurst corner in 1922. With commerce beginning to roar west on the boulevard as if driven by Santa Ana winds, the Tolhursts no doubt realized a handsome profit, enough to make leaving their lovely home after less than eight years bearable. After his next step, Lesser may have retained his new property for similar future profit; the house itself, however, would travel to what had already become yet the latest residential district of fashion. Windsor Square, a decade-old subdivision in what was termed into the middle 1920s the "West End" of Los Angeles, became a popular destination for quite a few Wilshire Boulevard houses seeking quieter venues. Among those moved to (and remaining on) Plymouth Boulevard alone would be 3200 and 3250; Lesser had bought Lot 29 and the southerly 60 feet of Lot 30 at the northeast corner of Plymouth and Sixth to which to move his new house from Wilshire and Ardmore. The Department of Buildings issued permits on January 2, 1924, for master house mover George Kress to begin work; once the buildings were in place at 552 South Plymouth, Hunt & Burns were called in to make renovations. Sol and Faye Lesser, who moved into their house in 1922 and then moved with it across town, would stay on Plymouth Boulevard for nearly 35 years.
By the summer of 1937, a branch of Eaton's restaurant was in operation at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Ardmore.