3020 Wilshire Boulevard


Israel Wellington Gardner died before he had the chance to cash in on his biggest real estate bonanza. It wasn't as though he'd missed many property booms, having been in the business in Los Angeles for decades; but it was his own house at 3020 Wilshire that paid the highest return on his investment, for his widow and daughter if not for himself, riding as it did the boulevard's wave from prestige residential avenue to world-famous Packard-and-Cadillac-trade commercial thoroughfare.

A wider view east from the north side of the boulevard, 1929: The
roadway widened, utilities buried, and "Wilshire Special" streetlamps
 installed, Bullock's-Wilshire is under construction out of view to the right.
Between the viewer and the Gardner house is one of the vine-covered arches
 marking the entrance to Wilshire Place. In the distance are the Bryson and
Arcady apartment buildings. Cars parked on the street indicate that
 Wilshire Boulevard was well into its commercial era, even if
many of its barely-20-years-old residences remained.

Wellington Gardner, born in Michigan on May 1, 1853, must have been a teenager of inspiring maturity and confidence. As was so often the case, once he and his older brother John were off their father's Michigan farm, there was no turning back. John got as far as Grand Rapids, and, shaking the cow pies off his feet, became a piano manufacturer there. Once Wellington turned 20, John plucked him out of agrarian drudgery and sent him all the way out to California, charged with expanding sales of pianos and organs by setting up dealers in Oakland and Portland as well as in Los Angeles. Wellington's success and descriptions of landscape and business conditions drew John himself west. The Gardner brothers continued in business together full-time until 1885, when Wellington sold out to his brother to enter the frenzy of the mid-'80s Southern California real estate boom. J. W., as John was referred to in print, stayed primarily in music sales while Wellington pursued land deals, but the brothers worked together at both businesses to great mutual advantage up to J. W.'s death in 1904. Their development enterprise is said to have more than doubled Santa Ana's population. Judging by the palaces of plutocrats beginning to line Wilshire Boulevard, Southland real estate was undeniably paying far greater dividends per pound of work than, say, plowing fields in Michigan.

It seems that some residents of Wilshire Boulevard didn't mind visits by Hollywood
film crews, especially when big names of the silent era were involved. In a final
scene of Chaplin's The Kid, released in 1921, Charlie is reunited with his
sidekick Jackie Coogan at the side entrance of the Gardner house.

It was the next year that Wellington began to think about a retirement statement in the form of a home for his wife, Mary, whom he'd married in Oregon in 1882, and their only child, Ella, born in Oakland in 1886. While there were many ritzy districts attractive to the muckety-mucks of Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century, from Figueroa and West Adams streets out to Pasadena, the expanding west end of the Westlake neighborhood was more to the Gardner's taste. The Times reported on January 1, 1905, that Wellington had bought Lot 1 of the new Wilshire Place Tract for $5,000. On July 30, the Herald carried a notice that John C. Austin and his then partner, Frederick G. Brown, had designed a house for the Gardner's 162-by-115-foot parcel at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Wilshire Place.  A permit to begin construction was issued in Mary Gardner's name by the Superintendent of Buildings on August 17, 1905; the family was in residence at 3020 Wilshire by early the next year. While Wellington is referred to as "retired" in some records during this time, he wasn't really; in addition to carrying on in the music business and in real estate after his brother died, he took off on the day's latest road to riches, becoming part of the Los Angeles–Utah Oil Syndicate in 1907 with a number of his California Club cronies. Mary entertained in her new house, but was also very active in the S.P.C.A. The family traveled to Europe, crossing at least once on the Lusitania. As Ella pushed 31, she must have been living in fear of spinsterhood for some years. "The bride has long been considered one of the most brilliant girls of the younger set of Los Angeles," the Times described her in its announcement of her whirlwind courtship and marriage in October 1917 to Dr. Henry W. Horn of San Francisco, where Ella had gone to study Russian. Dr. Horn had recently been commissioned into the Army medical corps, soon to ship out to France. He died, apparently of the flu, the next year. Ella, now a widow, stayed on in San Francisco. After a while she met a Colonel Fell of the British Army, settling with him in Vancouver, B.C., where she had a son and collected art. 

1936: The west-side yard of the Gardner house has been given over to
Margaret's Flowers at 3022 Wilshire Boulevard, run by Margaret
Bullock, daughter of John G. Bullock, whose department
store of a whole different high-rise scale was just
out of view to the right.

Wellington and Mary Gardner remained at 3020 Wilshire even as the winds of commerce were blowing down the boulevard. Several neighboring houses had already been given over to shops by the time Mr. Gardner died at home on February 12, 1926. Plans for extensive rezoning and drastic widening of the boulevard were being discussed. The ornate "Wilshire Special" streetlamps, seen in several photographs here, were installed in conjunction with widening and the burial of utilities, most of this work being accomplished during 1928. The famous pivotal moment in the transformation of Wilshire Boulevard from residential avenue came late that year when Emma Summers's house at 655 Wilshire Place, across from the Gardners, was demolished to make way for the dramatic new Bullock's-Wilshire store. A few householders hung on, particularly widows comfortable in their longtime homes. After 26 years at 3020, Mary Etta Gardner died on January 31, 1932. After the funeral, held at home, the house appears to have been leased as her estate was being settled; it is unclear as to when Ella finally sold the property. She may have been waiting for the effects of the Depression to abate to ensure maximum profit. For a time, Dr. James F. Blanchard, an osteopath, occupied the house; cosmetologist Irehne Hobson was in residence until 1940, the year her directory listing described her business as a "House of Creative Beauty and Nonchalant Personality," offering "Special Foods for Dynamic Power" and "Private Lessons Covering Social Ease, Posture, Poise, and Rhythm." (Nevermind the suit brought against her in 1930 by a client blinded during some sort of facelift operation.) Perfect for a place situated between glamorous Bullock's-Wilshire and what had once been the Lady Ann Cavendish Tea Room at 3002, opened as early as 1923 and raided some years later on suspicion of being a speakeasy for society matrons. It could be that the Bullock company bought the Gardner corner if not the house itself; at any rate, the side yard of 3020 became 3022 Wilshire when a sleek new building designed by Morgan, Walls & Clements was completed in early 1936 to house Margaret's Flowers. Margaret was Margaret Bullock, older daughter of the late John G. Bullock, who had picked up and moved William Lacy's house at 3200 Wilshire to 627 South Plymouth Boulevard in 1924. Margaret lived there with her mother; flowers kept her busy for a few years. After 1938, various other genteel shops were at 3022, including Bettye Lee, ladies' furnishings, followed by the Page Boy maternity shop in 1940. Page Boy was 3022's mainstay during the '40s and '50s; it and the Gardner house, occupied in 1957 by Dr. Reginald Franklyn Fisher's Wilshire Fine Arts Studio, stood until 1958. On April 7 of that year, the Department of Building and Safety issued permits for the demolition of both the Gardner house and the flower shop. Nine days later, a permit was issued for construction of the now-much-altered building currently on the corner.

The view west from Virgil Avenue shows Bullock's-Wilshire poised to
open in the fall of 1929. The Gardner house remains at left.

Another view east on Wilshire; while the Gardner house still stands, its porch
seen at lower right, the neighboring houses beyond the Botany Ties
billboard toward Hoover Street have for the most part been
replaced with attractive commercial strip buildings
typical in style of many that would line the
boulevard in its non-residential era.

A Union 76 station at the northwest corner of Virgil Avenue has replaced the house at 3033
Wilshire Boulevard in this shot dated 1949. The Gardner house at 3020, just visible
at far left, still stands. The Page Boy maternity shop has replaced
 Margaret's Flowers at 3022; a nondescript two-story
 structure built in 1958 is at the corner today.

Illustrations: USCDLLAPLJohn Bengston