3200 Wilshire Boulevard


When they survive, the houses of a given city's pioneering capitalists provide a record of aspirations and achievements of the civic variety as well as the domestic. In the case of Los Angeles, while that history might appear to run thin given the breakneck pursuit of ever larger suburban piles in districts toward the Pacific, the fact of the matter is that there are miles of streets in what are today the most unlikely of neighborhoods—Pico Union, for example, not to mention West Adams—lined with the surviving mansions of the club class. While few of the big houses of the manufacturers, lawyers, merchants, and bankers who built along Wilshire Boulevard as far out as Hancock Park remain, it seems that very few were occupied by names unrecognizable to students of Los Angeles history. There were Hancocks, Hellmans, and Otises; there were Gettys, Anthonys, and Earls. Like most Angelenos of the late 19th- and early-20th-centuries, they moved ever oceanward as public and private transportation improved and money was accumulated to buy wider margins between neighbors in the hills of Beverly and Bel-Air, in Pasadena, and farther afield. The palpable westward wave drove up the value of many an Angeleno's initial property investment ever higher right up to the Depression, by which time most of the city had been fully platted if not fully developed.

While there is much impressive domestic architecture to its north and south—with 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot houses not uncommon—the surviving physical record of old Wilshire Boulevard itself is notably sparse. Nowadays a house of grand proportions and of much better construction than is available today, were an owner wanting to replace it, would most certainly be demolished, even if deemed a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. There was, however, a time of different economics in terms of the relationship of lot and construction costs, of less traffic and government regulation, when even enormous masonry houses were moved, often in pieces, to be reassembled elsewhere, usually in western districts. The Earle C. Anthony house at 666 South Berendo Street was moved to Beverly Hills; the Aronson house at 3325 migrated to Fremont Place; 3558 was relocated to what is a veritable museum of mobile Los Angeles houses: Windsor Square, of which Plymouth Boulevard was becoming the chief showcase. (Some houses, such as 600 South Rossmore, were even moved twice, the last time as recently as 1980.) Thirty-two hundred Wilshire also had a second act.

As a tireless civic booster and onetime president of the Chamber of Commerce,
William Lacy never missed an opportunity to extoll the economic gold mine
that was Los Angeles. Here, he stands atop a cargo of oranges
being shipped from the harbor at San Pedro.

One man whose name is not quite as recognizable as some other Wilshire residents built a house high on a berm at Vermont Avenue; another man whose name is practically synonymous—whose name is indeed linked historically to the boulevard—saved it. Not for any modern preservationist reasons, but just because he recognized intelligent and attractive and comfortable architecture, not to mention understanding the likelihood of there being fewer craftsmen to build the like in the future. William Lacy built 3200 Wilshire Boulevard; John G. Bullock saved it.

William Lacy's English-born parents immigrated to America in 1858, stopping for a time in Illinois, where they had a daughter. Moving on to California in 1863, William Junior was born in Bolinas on November 12, 1864. The family settled in Los Angeles in 1877; William Senior, a man of inspiring lifelong spunk, quickly established himself as a banker and then as a sheet-iron-pipe manufacturer. Once his sons were getting old enough to take an interest in his business, William Senior turned his attention to oil fields and gold mines. He died on an inspection trip to one such of his own mines in Baja California in 1897. William Junior was a partner with his father in mineral speculation and while running Lacy Manufacturing with his brother, Richard (who was, by the way, married to a sister of Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan fame). While it was suggested in tributes at Junior's death that he had worked his way up from the bottom, the truth is, like many successful men, William had a familial leg up. A ton of money behind one always makes hanging out in overalls to learn a business a little easier. Which is not to say that William Lacy Junior wasn't a truly decent man. Even taking into consideration the natural tendency of the culture of the era to venerate its Masters of the Universe, few of us are likely to have our local newspaper of record editorialize our life at the end, as the Times did for William Lacy on June 13, 1932: 

William Lacy was perhaps unusual for his era in that he was respected not only for his business acumen—admired for his material success rather than resented for it—but appreciated too for his bonhomie and tireless efforts on behalf of Los Angeles and unselfish desire to see the city grow and its citizens prosper accordingly. As a young man in Los Angeles from the time its first transcontinental rail connection would bring it out of its frontier era, the city's future seemed limitless, and he caught the booster bug. After Los Angeles High School and business college and establishing himself with his father and brother in the various Lacy enterprises—banking, iron, clay products, oil, gold—Lacy married Emma L. Gordon on February 2, 1892. After first living with the senior Lacys in Lincoln Heights, the couple moved across the river to larger houses as six children, four boys and two girls, began to come. Living initially at Spring and Seventh, they then built on West Ninth Street at a corner now under the Harbor Freeway. Continuing a westward drift, in April 1905 William acquired what seemed at the time to be the four best lots in the Wilshire Boulevard Heights Tract, securing the southwest corner of Wilshire and Vermont Avenue. And only the best architects would do—by the end of the year, Lacy had commissioned Sumner P. Hunt and Wesley Eager to design a 14-room house that would sit high on a berm overlooking the intersection; the Superintendent of Buildings issued his construction permit on July 27, 1906. While the house would be more or less in the style that came to be called "Stockbroker Tudor," ubiquitous from Brookline to Burlingame, from Grosse Pointe to Pasadena, from Atlanta to Seattle, Hunt & Eager, as the firm did with the O'Melveny house once at 3250 Wilshire and now also on South Plymouth, produced a variant with enough charm to stand the test of time, which Edelman & Barnett's version for Louis Cole next door at 3240 and Hudson & Munsell's for Joseph Burkhard across Wilshire, both also employing half-timbering in their designs, did not. 

The Lacy's sixth child would be born in the new house. In addition to supervising the maids, cook, driver, and nurse, Emma spent time at the Ebell Club attending lectures meant to broaden distaff minds in an era when even rich and genteel ladies often did not go to college. William attended to his myriad businesses, hung out with cronies at the California Club, golfed at Midwick, roughed it with the Uplifters, and hunted ducks. Always civic minded, he would go on to serve as president of the Community Chest and of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Upon his inauguration in the latter post, his speech summed up the booster mentality that was always a hallmark of the city:

“For years the Chamber of Commerce has planned to make Los Angeles a great industrial city, and now we are within sight of that goal. It will be the policy of the Chamber during 1924 to emphasize the necessity of more industry, for the time is past when we need to advertise southern California’s climate. We want more people and we want to be in a position to offer them employment when they come here. We must create new payrolls and utilize our tremendous wealth of natural resources such as wool, cotton, hides, copper and iron. We have the markets and need only the skilled labor and the capital. The tremendous advantage offered Los Angeles commerce by the Panama Canal seems to be little realized by the majority of our people. With that avenue open to the eastern markets we can manufacture goods here and sell them in the east cheaper than they can be produced back there.”

Life on the boulevard and at 3200 proceeded into the '20s in the way of all grand suburban districts in America. But Wilshire Boulevard was not an enclave jealously guarded by its residents in the way that Chestnut Hill or Lake Forest were; it was, rather, a linear neighborhood that was so placed as to become inevitably a major motor route from downtown to the Pacific—and the city had its own local version of Manifest Destiny. Civic boosters would have seen it coming and cheered, even if it meant, as it did in Lacy's case, the end of the peace and quiet of their own homes. It was a given that Los Angeles was never meant to stand still.

The Los Angeles Times of July 2, 1922, reported the sale of William Lacy's corner of Wilshire
and Vermont to a group of investors known to be headed by John G. Bullock, a name
that would figure prominently into boulevard history by the end of the decade.
The photograph above was taken at that time. The palm at right
has had 16 years to grow from its stub as seen at top.

Even as early as 1922, downtown business interests recognized the city's westward drift. The most famous case of understanding the need to follow customers is that of department-store founder John Gillespie Bullock. With a group of investors in 1922, and with the owner of 3200 Wilshire ready to decamp for a new suburb to the west and no doubt looking at a serious profit, Bullock bought the southwest corner of Wilshire and Vermont, betting on the coming rezoning of the boulevard to commerce. Whether or not it was his original intention to simply demolish the Lacy house when the time came to build his new suburban store on the corner, or whether he had his eye on it as movable is not known. While he was already living at 627 South Ardmore in a house he liked—maybe it was his wife who was especially attached to it—perhaps Bullock had a chance to come to appreciate the particular charm of the house that came with the land he'd bought for his store's expansion. At any rate, it seems that a deal may have been struck between Bullock and Lacy for the latter to stay at 3200 until the summer of 1924. That July, a large auction was held in the house to dispose of whatever belongings the Lacys didn't want to take with them to their new house in Hancock Park. Meanwhile John Bullock had acquired a large parcel on Plymouth Boulevard; 3200 Wilshire would have a new home. On August 15, 1924, the Department of Buildings issued permits for relocation of the house and its garage to Windsor Square. The new site indicated on the permits was Lot 19 of the Windsor Square Tract; it appears that the house may have indeed stood there temporarily on trucks as Bullock decided on the final configuration of what would become something of a family compound, or the reference to Lot 19 on the permit was to all of his holdings on the block, which included Lots 20 and 21. The former 3200 Wilshire wound up midblock on Lot 21 and part of Lot 20; the Sixth Street corner, interestingly, awaited the arrival of 627 South Ardmore. Although the Bullocks had only lived there for five years in the house Juanita Gless (actress Sharon Gless's great-grandmother) had built in 1913, it seems that Louise Bullock didn't want to leave her Arthur Heineman–designed home behind. So, throwing money at the situation, John Bullock moved two houses to Windsor Square, in the process saving significant examples of Los Angeles domestic architecture for future generations. The Department of Buildings issued a permit for the relocation of 627 South Ardmore on July 27, 1925; today, it is at 605 South Plymouth and the house once at 3200 Wilshire Boulevard sits at 627 South Plymouth. Two other houses on the block were built elsewhere and relocated: 636 was moved from 634 South Gramercy in 1924, and, in 1969, 45 years after the height of Los Angeles mansion-moving, the large common yard between the Bullocks' 605 and 627 became the new site of a house built in 1935 at 676 South Highland—not only a late but a rare house move in an easterly direction.

As for the southwest corner of Wilshire and Vermont, the plan for a suburban Bullock's branch was shelved only to be revived several year later, with a twist. Once the decision was made to go ahead with a new store, a study indicated that shoppers would be discouraged by the madly increasing traffic at the intersection. The Lacy corner remained bare save for a Bullock's billboard, and a new site for the store was decided upon on a large parcel assembled by Bullock two blocks east between Westmoreland Avenue and Wilshire Place. When the monumental Bullock's-Wilshire store opened in September 1929, it changed forever the face of the boulevard, and it made the name Bullock almost as synonymous with Los Angeles as Wilshire. 

The Lacys' effects up for auction, as advertised in the Times on July 27, 1924

And then the Depression set in, in more ways than one. The commercialization of the Wilshire stalled to some degree, but only in that some of the many larger business blocks planned for its length weren't built or were delivered truncated. Some of the old houses lasted a bit longer as places of business before being replaced. But unlike the similar transformations of other streets, Wilshire didn't lose its glamour in transitioning from residential to commercial uses. The householders moved on to new precincts, safer from future incursions of business—that lesson had been learned. Depressed too was William Lacy, apparently a man of unchecked empathy for those suffering during hard times. He suffered a severe nervous breakdown in 1932. On June 11 of that year, unable to sleep for days, he asphyxiated himself in the laundry room of his house at 403 Muirfield Road in Hancock Park (today numbered 401). There were 200 honorary pallbearers at his funeral. The next year, on September 15, 1933, John G. Bullock died in the very pretty house he'd been wise enough to move from 3200 Wilshire Boulevard. In 2016 it still stands, 110 years old, if not conspicuously on its original corner berm, then provocatively behind a verdant screen at 627 South Plymouth. Go take a peek:

The house was bought in December 2011, apparently to be flipped; while renovation required
removal of its fetching beard, which contrasted properly with brown trim, as denuded
it is closer to its newly built state as seen at top, as well as to its appearance
soon after being moved to its current location in 1924. Perhaps green
trim was meant to suggest the lost growth; perhaps the railing
over the entrance should have been pulled with the vines.

The southwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Vermont Avenue as viewed at about the time
of the opening of Bullock's-Wilshire two blocks east in September 1929; the store has an
elaborate billboard—in a style common in Los Angeles at the time—on its might-
have-been site. About the only things remaining in the same view today
are the manhole covers and the base of the Wilshire Special
Special streetlamp at right center of the shot near
the double-decker bus (streetcars were
never allowed on Wilshire as
they were on Vermont).

Residential Wilshire Boulevard was mostly a dim memory by the early 1960s; although the
Talmadge Apartments—the dark building at lower center, at the southeast corner
of Berendo—remains, as does the former I. Magnin store to its left that
replaced 3240, 3200 Wilshire been replaced by a skyscraper.

The southwest corner of Wilshire and Vermont today. At least there are palm trees along the curb as
there were in 1906. Here they mercifully blunt some incredibly ugly architecture. The former
I. Magnin store—the low grey building, center right—was built in 1938 on the site of
the Louis M. Cole house at 3240; the steeple at far right is that of the

Immanuel Presbyterian Church, which replaced the Charles E.
Anthony house in 1929. Just visible to its left is the
Talmadge apartments on the site of Earle
 C. Anthony's Greene & Greene.

Illustrations: LAPL; USCDL; LATLarchmont BuzzGoogle Street View