3974 Wilshire Boulevard


Until recently one of the very few Wilshire Boulevard residences that still stood where it was built, the curious 3974 was the work of architect/contractor Wilford A. McCutcheon, who was known to have put up 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; McCutcheon was 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 had in fact issued a construction permit to McCutcheon on June 5, 1918, with the Southwest Builder and Contractor of April 1, 1921, then listing the issuance of alteration permits for the house to Hollywood actor turned director and producer Frank Borzage, who'd bought 3974 for himself and his high-living wife, actress Rena Rogers, not long before; the permit issued to Borzage by the city on March 25, 1921, authorized the extension of the cornice by 2½ feet. Another boulevard householder unaware or unconvinced of the coming and 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.

The Borzages pose with a 1930 Cadillac V-16 Town Car at
the rear of 3974 Wilshire; note the turntable, a not-uncommon
feature of expensive Los Angeles residences, especially those with
tight driveways. Also seen is a canvas awning with extravagant edging to
match those installed on the front of the house. Below: A happier anniversary
than one to come—in honor of Frank's 20 years as a director, Rena threw a party
on Halloween 1937 in the Lanai Room of the 
Hawaiian Paradise, the popular
Hollywood café on Melrose Avenue owned by the Borzages. Among those
invited were Irving Berlin, Frank Capra, Tod Browning, Joe E. Brown,

Carmel Myers, and seen here with Rena and Frank (second from
left), Ernst Lubitsch, 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.) Frank would undoubtedly have been stretched thin during the Depression years even without Rena's fondness for Cadillacs, furs, and entertaining; all along he had generously looked out for his extended family, including making it possible for his mother, Mary, to live right behind him at 3975 Ingraham Street after his father, Francesco Luigi "Louis" Borzage died in 1934. The terms of the divorce 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. Always ambitious, Rena was moving on to 146 North Rossmore Avenue in Hancock Park. After the shore 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, in 2012 the landlord stripped off most of the house's streetside detail and applied a generic strip-mall façade for branch of Starbucks clone Tom n Toms; much more than unfortunately, if inevitably, the 99-year-old house vanished entirely after the Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit on June 19, 2017. It has been replaced with a seven-story mixed-use project, as seen below.

Creating something of a family compound, Borzage moved his mother, Mary, into a 1914 house
at 3975 Ingraham Street, directly south of 3974 Wilshire, after his father died in 1934; the
rear of the latter residence—where the Borzages once posed with a Cadillac—is
seen here at the end of the driveway. Abandoned and boarded up by
May 2009, 3975 Ingraham was demolished the next year.
Its lot is now covered by the footprint of the massive
 mixed-use 3980 Wilshire, which has also
supplanted 3974 Wilshire.

As an actor, director, and producer, Frank Borzage had gotten to know another multi-talented Hollywood figure, Alfred J. Goulding, who came to specialize in comedy shorts, working with Harold Lloyd, Hal Roach, and Mack Sennett. Although apparently not directly associated with the production of The Kid Reporter, a short released in May 1923 featuring child superstar Baby Peggy, written and directed by Goulding, Borzage lent his friend the façade of 3974 for filming. Below are four frames of the movie discovered by film historian non pareil John Bengtson:  

Baby Peggy, born Peggy-Jean Montgomery in San Diego in 1918 and later known as Diana Serra Cary,
reaches for the doorbell of 3974 on her first attempt to gain entrance to the house, which stands

in for that of a rich woman whose servant has stolen pearls. Reflected in the glass is the
rear of the apartment building that stood on the northwest corner of Wilshire
and Gramercy Place from 1921 to 1935 (see Wilshire After Its Houses).

With her publisher having promised a promotion to the position of editor-in-chief to the reporter
who cracks the case, Peggy, as the improbable journalist, gains entrance to the house in a
cabinet being carried in by movers. The unknowing servant then hides the necklace in
the cabinet. Peggy springs out and a chase ensues. Now a hero, she returns the
jewelry to the owner of 3974 and is duly installed as the editor-in-chief.

Actress Blanche Payson as a policewoman on the steps of 3974; next door can be seen a glimpse
of 3986 Wilshire Boulevard, which had only recently been trucked to the southeast corner of
Wilshire and Wilton Place from Alvarado Street. It sits on beams before being lowered
 onto a new foundation and then drastically remodeled with a brick veneer.

In a fourth frame from The Kid Reporter, Baby Peggy stands
on the lawn of 3974 wilshire, with 3968 behind her. Six years after
the release of the film, the Borzages remodeled their house, altering
the entrance and adding heavy balconies. The changes can be seen in
the image below, taken when 3974 was being occupied by the Naval
Aid Auxiliary, hosting thousands of sailors during World War II.

The Charlie Chan copy shop as seen in April 2009. 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 called for the seven-story redevelopment
of the entire northwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and South Wilton Place.

Obliterating all traces of the Borzage house is 3980 Wilshire Boulevard, which includes 228
residential units and 16,429 square feet of commercial space. The rendering here

is of the Wilton Place façade, which extends south to Ingraham Street.