3350 Wilshire Boulevard
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The Hellmans have been players in Los Angeles and San Francisco since their American progenitors arrived in California in the 1850s. The fascinating story of this fabled clan, told by one of its own, is called Towers of Gold, a title more of a reference to the family's powers of alchemy than to architecture. But pots of money do tend to aid in the creation of more literal golden towers; the Hellmans certainly had their share of impressive houses, one of which was built in 1909 at the southwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Catalina Street.
Architects Abram M. Edelman and Leo W. Barnett prepared this impressive 1909 rendering
of their proposal for Marco Hellman's lot at 3350 Wilshire Boulevard. The firm also that
year built the Kaspare Cohn Hospital in East Los Angeles, precursor of Cedars of
Lebanon and Cedars-Sinai, and later designed Marco's sister Amy Aronson's
house at 3325 Wilshire, the Breed Street Shul in Boyle
Heights, and the Hillcrest Country Club.
The Hellmans are one of those families that tend to recycle their given names with results that must have been as confusing a century ago as they are when looking back, even if one is a descendant. In this clan there are Hermans and Marcos galore. The builder of 3350 Wilshire was one of the many Marcos—Marco Herman Hellman, in fact. Not his cousin Isaias W. Hellman Jr., born in 1871 and nicknamed Marco; not his son, Marco F., born on the last day of 1906; not cousin Marco, born in 1870, the one who tended to embezzle and then one day in 1895 walked into a downtown Los Angeles gun shop and killed himself with the first weapon he was shown (this business of namesakes does carry some risk in terms of reputation). Nor was it any other related Marco, but rather the son of Herman W. Hellman, who'd arrived in the City of Angels with his brother Isaias Sr. on May 14, 1859, joining cousins who had arrived five years before. Our Marco was one of Herman and Ida's six children, born at the corner of Fourth and Spring on September 14, 1878. Banking and finance came to be the family business, and Marco excelled at both. After Los Angeles High School and time at Stanford, where he was a classmate of Herbert Hoover, Marco worked alongside his father and uncle. After founding the Farmers and Merchants Bank in 1871 and running it together uneasily for decades, there was a monumental falling out between Herman and Isaias in 1903, resulting in Herman and his son Marco leaving to head a rival institution, called the Merchants National. Marco would go on to serve as president of that bank and of the Hellman Commercial Trust and Savings, and in time, to become a director of 21 banks and nine industrial concerns. He was a principal seller of bonds for the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and, unlike many other institutions, was willing to finance the expanding movie industry. The money rolled into Marco's accounts as it had been into those of many Hellmans since the family arrived in California 50 years before.
Marco was 29 when he decided that he'd accumulated enough money on his own and could find time apart from business and his devotion to stock horses—he is said to have ridden almost every day of his life—to take a wife. On June 10, 1908, he married European-educated Reta Laura Tevis, the musical daughter of a leading Visalia merchant. Soon it was also time to put on a show in the form of a stupendous Wilshire Boulevard house. In late 1908 Marco bought five lots and 10 feet of a sixth in the Wilshire Boulevard Heights tract, giving him a frontage of 145 feet along Wilshire and 305 feet along Catalina. At about the time Reta became pregnant with their first child, architects Edelman & Barnett were commissioned to design an 85-by-85-foot, 21-room house for the Hellmans, one with exterior walls of pressed brick and stone and a roof of copper-lined green tiles. Permits to begin construction were issued to Hellman by the Department of Buildings on June 5, 1909; while waiting for their new palace to be finished, Marco and Reta lived across the street in a house at 674 South Catalina, which brother Irving had just built and would live in after his brother and sister-in-law moved into 3350 Wilshire around the time of Herman Wallace Hellman's arrival on January 15, 1910. Protecting the family and intimidating visitors was a quarter-ton, glass-paneled bronze front door, leading to a quarter-sawn-oak paneled entrance hall with a domed ceiling finished in gold leaf. It may have all been a little too bank-like.
While a daughter was born on December 28, 1912, and given her parents' unusual, self-referential twist on the name "Margarita"—the baby was saddled with "Marcoreta"—the house was perhaps a bit much for its chatelaine. The actual cause of her illness seems to be shrouded in mystery, but Reta Hellman, as reported in the Times on May 9, 1917, had been "in Arizona for her health for more than year and has "not...been able to live in her beautiful Wilshire Boulevard home for two years." Was it consumption? If, as described in the Times article, there was some improvement in Reta's health, it was not to last. She died at 3350 Wilshire on Christmas Day, 1920, in an upstairs bedroom that, according to Marcoreta in 1954, was afterward closed off, the children not allowed to enter. Gloom seems to have settled over the intersection of Wilshire and Catalina: Marco and Reta's brother-in-law Sollie Aronson, who had had Edelman & Barnett build him a grand house caddy-corner at 3325 Wilshire in 1913, had died of the flu at home on January 27, 1919; Mrs. Aronson, Marco's sister Amy, had died of pneumonia on February 9, 1920.
|The entrance hall of the Hellman house during its tenure as the Samaritan Institute, 1935-1950|
While the Aronsons' two young sons—including a Marco, naturally—were adopted by Amy and Marco's sister and brother-in-law the Louis M. Coles, who lived two blocks east at 3240 Wilshire, the Aronson house, under the direction of Marco, was cut into three pieces and moved to Fremont Place and later sold. Marco, Herman, and Marcoreta stayed on at 3350, despite the gloom and despite the construction of the massive Ambassador Hotel next door, which opened on New Year's Day 1921. (The wings of the Ambassador, originally to be called the California, curiously echoed those of 3350, as do those of the hotel's successor, the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.)
However the rest of the '20s may have passed for the abbreviated Marco Hellmans at the corner of Wilshire and Catalina, they remained in the house despite the rapid commercialization of the boulevard and apartment buildings, such as The Talmadge a block east and The Gaylord a block west, replacing the mansions. The thick walls of 3350 and its huge lot, big enough for horses, may have provided a sense of protection for the widower Marco and the motherless Herman and Marcoreta. But calamity struck in a new, unprecedented form in the fall of 1929—having exchanged their bank stock in a complex merger deal that resulted in the Bank of America, the value of their new securities took a steep dive when Wall Street laid an egg soon after. Many Hellmans, according to Towers of Gold, were left virtually bankrupt. "Marco was forced to sell his house, his horses, and his extensive landholdings. He was also asked to resign from many of the clubs and groups he and his father had helped start in Los Angeles." An item in The Wall Street Journal on November 16, 1931, headlined CLAIM MARCO HELLMAN INSOLVENT, reported that a bankruptcy petition against Marco had been filed in U.S. District Court in L.A. Marco was still listed at 3350 in the 1932 city directory; he was still there early on New Year's Day 1933 when he heard a porchclimber attempting to enter the house. Intending to capture the intruder, Marco threw his weight against the door as it opened, breaking the intruder's hand. Unfortunately, the injured prowler got away. (In 1915, a man "of wolfish appearance" rang the doorbell of 3350, claiming he had "enough nitroglycerin to blow up a city block" in the parcel he was carrying. The wolfish man was overpowered and the bomb turned out to be a ham.)
|Discreet newspaper advertisements tucked in|
lower page corners sometimes featured a
view of 3350 Wilshire. They ran
from 1935 through 1950.
The details of the ownership of 3350 Wilshire Boulevard after Marco Hellman finally left the house in 1933 or '34 are unclear; what is known is that it became a grand dry-out center. The Samaritan Treatment for Alcoholism, like several of its kind, had facilities in cities across the country; according to its newspaper advertisements, it offered a 48-hour cure. Announcements of the opening at 3350 Wilshire of Samaritan's new Los Angeles unit appeared in the Times in the spring of 1935. While the seller is not noted—whether the property had actually somehow been retained by Marco and then leased to Samaritan or there had been an interim owner—the sale of 3350 to the clinic was reported in newspapers in January 1943. Samaritan was said to have plans to demolish the old house and replace it with a height-limit building after the war. The same small ads offering its cure in the house at 3350 appeared in the Times as late as November 1950, after which time the institute moved to Pico Boulevard.
Latter days: A photograph taken on June 17, 1952, reveals
that the front door of the Hellman house faced the corner of Wilshire
and Catalina; the overall impression is that Marco Hellman wished to live in a
bank. A wing of the Ambassador Hotel is visible just to the right of the billboard.
Below: The house undergoing demolition, March 1954. Billboards, the scourge of the
the boulevard for decades after its commercialization began in the 1920s, here include
those of the Cleveland Wrecking Company (which tore down many an old Los Angeles
landmark); General Motors promoting its famous Motorama, taking place at the
equally famous Pan Pacific Auditorium as the Hellman house began to fall;
and Adohr Milk Farms, the name of which was the backward
spelling of that of founder Rhoda Rindge Adamson.
A lengthy article appeared in the Times on February 14, 1954, describing the impending demise of the 45-year-old house. The Southland Insurance Company of Dallas had acquired the property and was proposing to erect its own height-limit building. Southland was issued a demolition permit by the Department of Building and Safety on February 15; what was finally built by 1958 was the still-modern-appearing Texaco building, the oil company's new headquarters for eight western states.
After the darkest days of the Hellmans—1933 was a particularly bad year, with Irving contending with his own bankruptcy, the Aronson boys suing their uncles for mismanagement of their mother Amy's estate, and the loss of 3350 Wilshire—Marco moved to two different houses in Los Feliz. (Somehow, despite the family bankruptcies, no Hellman seems to have had to move to any neighborhood lesser than Los Feliz or Beverly Hills.) Marco Herman Hellman died at Cedars of Lebanon on January 18, 1948. His obituary in the Times referred deftly to his having "retired from active participation in the financial world in 1932," mentioning that he "continued as a business opportunities broker until a few days before his death." Sic transit gloria Wilshire if not Hellman.
Illustrations: LAPL; LAT; HDL; Google Books