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 permit for its construction 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 Frank Borzage, who'd bought 3974 for himself and his high-living wife, actress Rena Rogers, not long before. 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. 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, 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 is being replaced with a seven-story mixed-use project, as seen below.

The Naval Aid Auxiliary saw thousands of servicemen pass through its doors 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.

Creating something of a family compound, Frank 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.

Obliterating all traces of the Borzage house will be 3980 Wilshire Boulevard, which is
slated to include 228 residential units and 16,429 square feet of commercial space.

Illustrations: Private Collection; jericl cat; A Certain CinemaUSCDL;
Huntington Digital LibraryLos Angeles Department of City Planning;
Google Street View