2976 Wilshire Boulevard


One of Wilshire Boulevard's shyest houses is one that appears loathe to ever having had its picture taken, and one which survives to this day behind a commercial structure put up between it and the curb 40 years after it was built. Following the establishment of Gaylord Wilshire's initial subdivision on the west side of Westlake Park in 1895, the houses strung along the lengthening boulevard would vary in size and grandeur, with some blocks containing as many as five or more houses and others, as in the case of 2520 Wilshire, only one. Similarly, the periphery of Lafayette (née Sunset) Park saw the building of houses of various sizes; on the south-side block of Wilshire beyond Hoover Street and across from the park was a stretch of five relatively modest, closely spaced late Victorians, after which, from Commonwealth Avenue, the houses got bigger and more varied again. The 75-foot lot in the Sunset Park Tract that businessman Charles R. Hadley bought in August 1904 was the first in the progression west after Commonwealth that was laid out with a larger frontage more in keeping with Mr. Wilshire's original idea of spacious suburban luxury.

Both the towering Bullock's-Wilshire and the Town House (right) were nearing completion in a view
west from Commonwealth Avenue. Commerce had taken hold by 1929: The Hadley house at
2976 Wilshire, just 24 years old, hides here behind a billboard advertising a Malibu real
estate development and other signage, seen close up at top.
 Before long, many of
the boulevard's houses would be demolished, or, as in the case of 2976, hiding
behind newer construction; the gabled Berner house at 2966 is to its left.

Charles Ross Hadley, born in Plainfield, Indiana, on January 18, 1868, found his métier in Chicago in what his obituary would describe as the loose-leaf business, a reference to accounting supplies. Once established at Baker-Vawter, an expanding firm dealing in filing devices, printing, and stationery, Hadley married Grace Dodge in Chicago on May 5, 1898, whereupon Baker-Vawter sent him to San Francisco to manage its branch there. Hadley had visited California on business several times previously, including trips to Los Angeles with an eye to further expansion. While the Times reported that he and Grace "took apartments" at the Van Nuys in the winter of 1900, it wasn't until 1903 that a permanent move south was made, now with Charles Jr., born on November 25, 1900, in tow. Managing the Baker-Vawter branch in L.A. for the next five years, Hadley laid the groundwork for his own business, which opened in 1908. In the meantime, he was doing very well as an employee rather than employer; a true Angeleno from the start, he began to invest in suburban real estate. For his own house he chose not only Wilshire Boulevard but a style of architecture popularized in part by another man in the printing trades, Harrison Gray Otis of the Los Angeles Times and 2401 WilshireBuying Lot 11 of the Sunset Park Tract, and, some months later, Lot 12 next door to create a larger yard, Hadley commissioned top-tier architects Hudson & Munsell to design a low-profile Mission-style white stucco concoction complete with Alamo gable and arched front porch, a distinct departure from the dark, steeply peaked houses to its east.

The Charles Hadley house, nearing completion, as seen in the Times on August 13, 1905; while
Hudson & Munsell's design was modern compared to the gabled and turreted houses to
its east, it also bore resemblance to some small-town railroad stations of the era.

Once in their new house, Grace took to entertaining, with newspapers describing her as a charming hostess. Perhaps not unpredictably, it all became a chore after a few years; a young child, a lovely new house in a grand district, parties, and two-month trips to Japan sans husband and son weren't enough for Mrs. Charles R. Hadley of Wilshire Boulevard. Perhaps the hard work involved in building a company kept Charles at the office too much. At any rate, Grace took to locking herself in her bedroom after dinner, and then, according to Charles's divorce petition, she deserted the family altogether in January 1908. After reaching a property settlement out of court in July 1909, Grace was free, and so was Charles, if not their son. Ross, as he was called, stayed with his father, growing up to learn the ins and outs of the Charles R. Hadley Company, which had evolved into a major manufacturing concern producing equipment and systems for the green-eyeshade set. It wasn't all work: Charles acquired  "Montgomery Rex" for morning canters around the park, parting with the bay stallion only when an association of Japanese subjects living in America expressed an interest in presenting a gift to Emperor Yoshihito. Nearing 50, Hadley served as an Army captain in France during the Great War. And goodness knows he was into his clubs, belonging to the California, the Jonathan, the Athletic, the Beach, and the Bohemian, to name a few. It wasn't until after 1920 that he remarried.

Separate ways: In 1906, the Times described Mrs. Charles Ross Hadley as "a beautiful
young matron who will soon leave for a tour of Japan in company with friends." She
returned home to her husband and son two months later, but not for long.

Sadly, Nell Bradley Hadley would quickly become a widow in 1924 after Charles's death of a heart attack at 2976 Wilshire on June 16. Some time after his retreat to Hollywood Cemetery, the house was sold. In line with the beginning of the transition of Wilshire Boulevard from residential to commercial, Mrs. Albert Beck Wenzell, following a stay at 3002, moved into 2976. Mrs. Wenzell had moved to California from Englewood, New Jersey, after the death of her elder son in 1915 and that of her husband, a painter and noted illustrator of magazines and novels, in 1917. Minnie Wenzell kept the memory of her husband alive in a studio she maintained in the house and, as president of the local MacDowell Club of Applied Arts, entertained frequently with what from their newspaper descriptions sound something like the soporific gatherings of Edward Ryder's in Brideshead Revisited headlined by Miss Gloria Orme-Herrick with her cello and tiny moustache. At Mrs. Wenzell's salons there were sometimes "readings of the Chinese poets" by Mrs. Suzanne Joyce Spear; occasionally things got livelier when strolling musicians and fortune tellers were included in the mix.

Can you pick out Shirley Jean Rickert, one-time Our Gang regular and
later ecdysiast? This Times photo was taken at
 the Wilshire
Doll House, 2976 Wilshire Boulevard, in May 1934.

Exit Mrs. Wenzell for Wilton Place. Enter the Wilshire Doll House. Still genteel even if turning to trade, this was not the boulevard's first strip club but rather a toy shop and fantasyland where child-size dolls were born. The Stensgaard family—Mary and her grown children, Thorval and Estella—were the midwives, living upstairs. The Doll House moved three doors east to 2932 Wilshire in 1938; by this time the boulevard was almost purely commercial. The next business to occupy 2976 was a tea room, not in the modern sense but in the mold of the Lady Ann Cavendish, a Prohibition-era speakeasy for society ladies once next door at 3002. Presumably not serving hooch, legal or otherwise, Jane Assell's Tea Room served shoppers weary from the rounds of the fashionable clothiers and tailors, florists and art galleries now lining Wilshire, some in the old residences that hung on in the face of commerce, some in the attractive new retail buildings that were being built on either side of 2976 and up and down the boulevard for miles. Generally these replaced houses that were now barely 40 years old (2966, next door to 2976, was a notable exception; it was in use as a residence as late as 1970). In the case of the old Hadley house, however, rather than usurp the entire building itself, the Flam Investment Corporation, its latest owner, stripped off its Mission façade and porch in 1947 and attached the three-story, 75-by-35-foot structure that remains today between house and curb, its blandness not mitigated by its faux dormered roof. (Building to the sidewalk is a pattern that repeats itself in ever-urbanizing Los Angeles today, though with higher, much less charming buildings.)

And if today you arrive at what has been readdressed primarily as 2974 Wilshire and drive through the opening marked 2978, you will find the 110-year-old house that Charles R. Hadley built, its footprint and bones, at least, largely intact. As for the business-products company Hadley started, perpetuated and grown by his son—it was of substantial enough regional importance to be bought by no less than the Burroughs Corporation—later Unisys—in 1955.

Circa 1940: The roofline of the Hadley house and its white chimneys, center left, is visible 
against the blank brick wall of one of the many smaller retail strip buildings built along
Wilshire in the '30s; these often had pitched roofs in deference to the street's
period of transition to business. Between the Hadley house and the
Budweiser billboard is the large gable of 2966 Wilshire. Not as
easily discernible are, from the lower edge of the picture,
29202932, and 2942The tip of the pylon of the
Simons drive-in that replaced the two Hoover
corner houses, 2902 and 2914, can
be seen at lower left.

The 1947 façade of the Hadley house today is somewhat less charming than the original with its
Alamo-style gable and arched colonnade, but just through the driveway to the left
stands a rare remnant of residential Wilshire Boulevard. Despite the signage,
Los Angeles high society has long since moved miles to the west.

A magnifying glass may help with the insert provided for comparison, but illustrated
is the original roofline of 2976 and the location of its west chimney, the
remnants of which are circled in the current overhead view.

A view of the south side of 2976 isn't very pretty these days, but there is a small  
echo of its original Alamoesque front gable at the rear center of its roof.

Illustrations: Private Collection; USCDL; LAT; Google Street View