3974 Wilshire Boulevard


Of the very few surviving Wilshire Boulevard houses, there are those moved to new locations and there are those that actually still stand where they were built, if obscured by progress. The curious 3974 was the work of architect/contractor Wilford A. McCutcheon, who was known to have built a number of Los Angeles houses from the mid 1900s into the '20s, evidently living in some of them for a short time before selling; he is listed in the Los Angeles city directory as living at 3974 in 1920. While for reasons of its own the Los Angeles County assessor's office cites a build date of 1923, the Department of Buildings issued a permit for its construction on June 5, 1918; the Southwest Builder and Contractor of April 1, 1921, lists the issuance of alteration permits for the house to Hollywood actor-turned-director Frank Borzage, who'd bought the house for himself and his high-living wife, actress Rena Rogers, not long before. Another boulevard householder unaware or unconvinced of the coming almost complete commercial hegemony over the thoroughfare, Borzage would stubbornly remain even after he won the first Academy Award for best director of a drama for 1927's Seventh Heaven, when a move to, say, Beverly Hills might have seemed more appealing than remaining on increasingly busy Wilshire Boulevard. As it turned out, he and Rena remodeled regularly and stayed well beyond his achievement of Oscar-level success, at some point adding the theatrical exterior curtains and a "B" over the door, as seen in the 1928 Christmas photograph above. Apparently quite attached to their house, the Borzages commissioned yet another remodel August 1929, this one including the addition of the rather heavy balconies appearing in later pictures.

Happier anniversary: At a 1935 party celebrating Borzage's first 20 years as a director
are Ernst Lubitsch, Frank, Rena, Richard Dix, and William A. Wellman.

Frank and Rena divorced acrimoniously in 1941, apparently in part because of Rena's extravagances. (According to her, Frank walked out of 3974 during a party celebrating their 24th anniversary the year before and never came back.) The terms of the settlement gave Rena property worth $250,000, which, it seems, she decided to convert to cash; April 1942 auction advertisements in the Times listed as furnishings of 3974 "Princely possessions—Persian rugs, important paintings, objets d'art, and rare furs." While he may have been living elsewhere, Frank was listed in directories at 3974 as late as 1944, though he (or Rena, if it was part of her settlement) either rented or donated the house for use as the Naval Aid Auxiliary's shore station for servicemen, which opened on November 24, 1943. After the station closed on April 1, 1946, there were several other residents until 3974 was given over to commercial enterprises in the '50s and was then referred to as the McAsh Building. Its appearance remained essentially unchanged as recently as 2011, when the Charlie Chan copy shop was in residence. Unfortunately, the landlord has now stripped off most of the house's streeside detail and applied a generic strip-mall façade for a clone of Starbucks.

The Naval Aid Auxiliary saw many thousands of servicemen
pass through its doors during the Second World War.

Aerial views, 1929 and 2011; 3974 is the second house from the Wilton corner
 in each image

The Charlie Chan copy shop, above, January 2011. Save for the under-eave
brackets, any remainder of the house's character was lost in a remodeling after
 that (below). Plans as of summer 2016 call for the seven-story redevelopment of
the entire northwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and South Wilton Place.

Illustrations: jericl cat; A Certain CinemaUSCDL; Huntington Digital Library;
Google Street View