4031 Wilshire Boulevard


style sandwiched between the English designs popular in Los Angeles from around 1905 and the various Colonial revivals that began to take hold 10 years later, Craftsman houses in all sizes spun centrifugally across the Southland from the Greene Brothers' Pasadena renown. By late 1910, the English pretensions seen in recent big-gabled houses were being replaced with purer American versions covered in shingles or clapboards. One such was completed at the northwest corner of Wilshire and Van Ness Avenue by the spring of 1911, oriented east but addressed 4031 Wilshire Boulevard. It was built on Lot 41 of Henry J. Brown's Wilshire Terrace tract by a local physician who maintained a profile higher than that of the average Los Angeles medical man of the day. 

While handsome and hirsute Dr. Randolph William Hill listened to heartbeats and tapped knees with a Taylor tomahawk in a downtown office, he was also politically active, long prominent in Democratic Party circles; he was in addition a wise investor real estate in his growing city. Dr. Hill was a thoroughbred Southerner—his father was Civil War general Daniel Harvey Hill, an uncle no less than Stonewall Jackson; one of nine children, he made his own way in the world, arriving on the West Coast in the '80s. Coming from San Pedro, he set himself up in Los Angeles by the early '90s. Not marrying until September 1910, once he did settle down he did it stylishly by purchasing a lot in the rapidly developing West End and then commissioning a nine-room house. On December 12, 1910, he was issued a permit by the Department of Buildings to begin construction. Dr. and Mrs. Hill stayed at 4031 for 15 years; with commerce taking over Wilshire both to the east and the west, they would have been tiring of the roar of cars and buses by 1926. The neighborhood was not yet to be written off by affluent homeseekers, however. Enter colorful if short-lived Act II.

The name "Engstrum" is one that appears countless times in the history of building in early-20th-century California. Franz O. Engstrum became seriously rich as the prolific contractor of many Los Angeles landmarks including the storied 1912 Bryson apartments at 2701 Wilshire, developed by his son-in-law Hugh W. Bryson. While F. O. Engstrum appears to have led a quiet life in terms of the media, his name appearing only in reference to his work, his sons were another story, or, rather, many stories, some of which had a tabloid air. In 1922 his son Frederick E. Engstrum was accused by his sister Mrs. Bryson of illegally using funds from their mother's estate in a business scheme, though this misadventure paled in comparison to their brother Paul's checkered marital and business history, in which figured 4031 Wilshire.

Completed in 1911, 4031 Wilshire survived for nearly 70 years, from 1948 behind storefront
additions facing the boulevard. The house just to its west, 4037, was moved to
its lot in 1924 from 601 South Serrano Avenue and demolished in 1956.

Although Paul Engstrum was typical of a breed still with us especially vividly in politics—the childish, impetuous horse's ass who is nevertheless capable of garnering the attention and support of his peers—some fleeting personal charm seems to have persuaded three women to marry him for short periods of time. Messily divorced twice before he was 25, Engstrum afterward declared that he would never marry again. He lived recklessly out of wedlock, once spending a night in jail, accused of passing a bad check, before somehow in 1916 capturing the heart of a third woman whose grandfather, mercifully, ordered her to break the engagement. Three years later he was accused of "aiding a minor girl's delinquency." More charming headlines.

Its south side appearing above from Wilshire Boulevard with 1948 taxpayer additions and its east front from Van Ness at top, 4031 was photographed by Annie Laskey in 1978, two  
years before demolition. It was replaced by a new building (at bottom) for Station
29 of the Los Angeles Fire Department, opened in 1991 to succeed its
former quarters still standing at 158 South Western Avenue.

To give Paul his due, he does appear to have straightened up his act after diddling the minor girl and after his father died in 1920. He wore many business hats, working at one time as a civil engineer for his father's firm (dissolved after F. O.'s demise), later operating the Duro automobile refinishing company. Still later he was described as a "newspaper and advertising man," which led to a stint as the "official host" of Los Angeles County. Had they the benefit of the internet, any future possible Mrs. Engstrums might have been better forewarned; without it, a girl might be persuaded that Paul was a changed man. Florence Dean Meyers of New York, a stranger to Los Angeles newspapers of the past 20 years, was apparently so convinced and became the third Mrs. Paul Engstrum on September 26, 1924. The couple lived at first at the Ambassador, planning to build on Wilshire Boulevard in the near future, according to their belated wedding announcement in the Times. It seems that instead the Engstrums bought an existing Wilshire house, that of well-known Dr. Hill, who had been living at 4031 since 1911. Less than two years later, the reference in society columns was to "Mrs. Florence Engstrum"; then, in February 1929, 4031 was up for sale—lock, stock, and tufted red satin brocade couch. Two years after that, Flo received her divorce on the grounds of cruelty and nonsupport.

An inventory of questionable taste: as advertised in the Times on February 24, 1929

Once trade caught up with the house, it was in a hybrid fashion typical of the neighborhood, one that spared the house itself. Storefronts were eventually added, carbuncles attractive to motorists and topped with billboards that helped obscure the very old-fashioned dwelling behind them. One of the longest-lived of Wilshire Boulevard houses, a demolition permit for it wasn't issued by the Department of Building and Safety until April 25, 1980.

Station 29 of the Los Angeles Fire Department, built in 1991, is unusual for modern
construction on the boulevard by being set back from the street in the
manner of the thoroughfare's residences of another era.

Illustrations: USCDLLATLAPL; Google Street View