3173 Wilshire Boulevard
PLEASE SEE OUR COMPANION HISTORIES
PLEASE SEE OUR COMPANION HISTORIES
FOR AN INTRODUCTION TO WILSHIRE BOULEVARD, CLICK HERE
Located on the north side of the boulevard in the middle of the block between Vermont Avenue and Shatto Place, 3173 Wilshire was the work of eminent architect Arthur B. Benton, commissioned by Emilie Brodtbeck in the spring of 1906. A bourgeois dream of turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, a sedate statement on a street of promise, the house went on to weather the effects of the peculiar kinds of dreamers the city's Hollywood alter-ego began to attract 20 years later. (Goat glands, anyone?) But before such unspeakable incivilities, there was Mrs. Brodtbeck, in 1906 the proper and well-provided-for widow of Otto Brodtbeck. Born in Switzerland in 1845 and brought over to live among the large German population in southern Illinois in 1851 and taken to Dubuque a few years later, Mr. Brodtbeck became a thoroughgoing Midwesterner in a more cosmopolitan America, migrating only as far as making a return to southern Illinois after fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Establishing himself in real estate there and before long elected to the state legislature representing Madison County, Brodtbeck met Emilie Weinheimer, born in Highland on October 16, 1854, marrying her in March 1873 and settling in St. Louis. Ten years later, after having made prior trips to invest in the southwest, railroad competition launched the fabled Boom of the Eighties that transformed Southern California from semidesert pueblo to promised land; continuing to behave like Midwesterners of the era, the Brodtbecks, with their children Otto Jr. and Adele along with his parents, fled permanently for the sunshine. Tough enough to survive the bust that inevitably followed the '80s boom, Otto Sr. went on to gain respect for his property-development acumen and his contributions to the material uplift of his adopted Los Angeles. The "well-known real estate dealer, money broker and notary"—according to his inconsistently rather small obituary also one of the city's "most prominent businessmen"—lived just a few weeks beyond his 50th birthday, dying on April 25, 1895. It seems that Emilie learned at her husband's side. After acquiring Lot 8 of Clara Shatto's subdivision out on Wilshire Boulevard, now extending into dusty hinterlands, Mrs. Brodtbeck engaged the preeminent Mr. Benton to build her a modern 11-room house sheathed in arroyo stone and fashionable brown shingles. The Department of Buildings issued her a permit to start on July 11, 1906.
|Up to a certain point in time, the word "pretentious" was more of a benign synonym for|
"grand"; Ida Hancock Ross's 3189 Wilshire Boulevard, completed three years after
the Brodtbeck house, was a pile that may have given the word its new meaning,
reducing as it did the appearance of 3173 to that of a bungalow. The
bungalow far outlived the pretentious pile, however, though parts
of the latter are preserved at U.S.C. as a memorial to
Ida Hancock Ross by her son G. Allan Hancock.
Apparently unfazed by its initial unsettled air, especially as compared to older sections of the verdant West Adams district, not to mention well-settled Pasadena, Mrs. Brodtbeck and Adele watched as the boulevard assumed its residential character and gained a palm or two. Perhaps at the urging of her mother, Adele appears never to have passed up a single party—and what else was a big new house good for, especially with only two people living in it, except to use as social currency? Very much in demand as a Blue Book bridesmaid and the intimate of daughters of some of the best families town, socializing paid off when she became engaged to wholesale grocer Earl Cowan, establishment man-about-town (by way of Pomona), member of the California, Jonathan, and Los Angeles Country clubs and a founder of the exclusive Bachelors. Married at home in November 1908, the newlyweds stayed on at 3173 Wilshire for a decade, with a daughter, Arlis, being born in the house in 1915. In a relocation that perhaps spoke to the never fully formed residential character of the boulevard, the Cowans decamped for Pasadena soon after. Emilie Brodtbeck died on her granddaughter's seventh birthday, January 6, 1922, having just begun to notice the specter of trade beginning to appear on what she might always have assumed would be Los Angeles's prime residential thoroughfare. There would be compensation, of course, in terms of property value, for the Cowans at least—Otto Jr. had died of typhoid fever in 1902—no other street in Los Angeles was realizing greater gains.
|Venerable Angelenos: Apparently rather shy of cameras themselves,|
Otto and Emily Brodtbeck, along with their daughter Adele Cowan,
who died in 1939, are buried at Rosedale Cemetery. Their
stones are reminders that Los Angeles has many more
layers of history than it is given credit for.
Whether Adele Cowan sold her mother's house or retained it for rental is unclear, but 3173 Wilshire Boulevard had become the pied-à-terre and office of Dr. Clayton E. Wheeler by June 1925. Dr. Wheeler, a San Francisco gynecologist and endocrinologist, had moved down part-time from San Francisco. Once in Los Angeles, now bigger than its northern civic rival and where in the age of Aimee Semple McPherson and Gaylord Wilshire's I-ON-A-CO electric belt there was a larger supply of chumps, the doctor's interests grew to include the nether regions of men as well as women. As a rabid proponent of gland therapy, he promised rejuvenation to the gout-bound, prescribing the contributions of many a Catalina goat. Perhaps fittingly, considering its namesake's cure-all belt, fading residential Wilshire Boulevard was giving way to crackpot science in the years before its commercial heyday. The most famous gland quack of the era was John R. Brinkely, a doctor with a degree from a Kansas City diploma mill who had been having considerable success peddling his malarkey in the Midwest since World War I. No less than Harry Chandler of the Times had invited Brinkley to Los Angeles in 1922, apparently figuring that whether the doctor proved to be legitimate or a charlatan, questionable science would sell papers either way. Declining the placement of a goat gland into his own scrotum, Chandler bestowed the honor on his managing editor, Harry E. Andrews. The infection that commonly followed such procedures apparently did not take hold of Andrews, though the placebo effect counted on by Dr. Brinkley did evidence itself in short order—and, without waiting for the phantom vigor to wane, Brinkley was given major huzzahs in the press. But the California Board of Medical Examiners threw cold water over the jubilant doctor's resulting decision to open an office in Los Angeles; the temporary medical license Chandler had secured for Brinkley was revoked, the authorities questioning for starters his credentials purchased from the Eclectic Medical University. (No big deal. Like Mrs. McPherson, Brinkley had discovered something on the West Coast far more valuable than newspaper coverage. Back east in those odd states that didn't see the need to question his right to practice medicine, he got even bigger on the radio, over the next decade becoming very rich before malpractice, wrongful death, and fraud litigation doomed him.)
|Many men with flagging energies fell under the spell of gland quack Clayton Wheeler over|
the fad's remarkable two-decade run, but so did some women. Prolific if little-known
today, also pixilated was 67-year-old California writer Gertrude Atherton, who
apparently gave Dr. Wheeler permission to allow her testimonial to appear
in his full-page advertisement that appeared in the Los Angeles Times
on July 12, 1925. Perhaps goat glands bolstered her longtime
reputation of having a strong will and independent mind.
Into the breach came Clayton E. Wheeler. Born in South Dakota in 1885, with self-described bonafides from the University of Alabama, Stanford University and participation in experiments at San Quentin, Wheeler promoted himself in Los Angeles as if he were the latest release from Fox or Metro. He, too, had a lucrative career promising youth to impotent old goats. Big Southland names wanted in on the act. William Wrigley was reported by the Times to have donated 20,000 Catalina goats to Wheeler's work in glandular studies, perhaps reserving a pair for himself. The actual science of implanting goat gonads into men and goat ovaries into women (alongside rather than replacing the originals) appears to have sometimes involved mysterious extracts delivered by injection—for some reason, the foreign substances, if they didn't cause infection or death, were absorbed by the body rather than rejected. Such was the odd practice's cultural currency by 1930 that the film industry referred to the insertion of talking sequences into otherwise obsolete silent movies as "goat glanding." As early as 1922 the practice on humans was being mocked in silents themselves, as Buster Keaton did in Cops. But with Viagra a long way in the future, hope sprang eternal. Fortunes and dreams threatened or not, the Depression only boosted Dr. Wheeler's practice by increasing the number of hornswogglable needing hope. Just as the practice had enriched John R. Brinkley through some sort of two-decades-long mass hypnosis of those with low self esteem, Clayton Wheeler bought successively grander houses, in Hancock Park and then Los Feliz, as well as a power cruiser, the Siesta. While he seemed to enjoy emulating the ways of Society, brushing shoulders with frequenters of Catalina resorts, perhaps to proselytize by first asking how a new acquaintance was feeling, he was never fully accepted among the Blue Book crowd. Little wonder, given that his medical license had been revoked in 1928 amid charges of his having violated a California law banning the advertising of treatments for sexual diseases. Although his credentials were restored after a court battle and he resumed his practice, Wheeler had also been accused of, and sued for, usury in the matter of a loan he had made, litigation over which lasted into 1934. And in November of that year the U.S. Supreme Court refused to set aside mail-related fraud charges brought by the Post Office Department. By this time having moved his practice to another aging Wilshire Boulevard house, that of Edwin Earl at 2425, the implanting and injecting, the yachting and hobnobbing continued on until the following summer, though one wonders what legal pressures may have been mounting. On August 4, 1935, after entertaining guests aboard the Siesta with clay-pigeon shooting off the poop deck, Dr. Wheeler, president of an Orange County gun club, accidentally—according to those on board—shot himself in the head. (As with Dr. Brinkley, now in Texas and still going strong, Wheeler's gland therapy continued on Wilshire Boulevard in the hands of his associate Dr. Edwin B. Glass. The national supply of the gullible finally dried up within the next several years as the ridiculousness and the legal headwinds finally became too much.)
|Perhaps with the idea of networking among men (and women) who were still rich but feeling|
down-and-out in the Depression, Dr. Wheeler used the great gains he'd made from dealing
in goats (despite the lawsuits) to buy a yacht. Like his outfit, it wasn't a good fit.
Here, seen in the Times on February 25, 1934, Clayton and Hazel look happier
than they might actually have been; with ideas of proving fraud, the
Post Office was knocking on his door with more charges.
As the Depression slowed the replacement of the remaining houses on Wilshire Boulevard by their successor commercial buildings, often very pretty, low-scale efforts whose construction had began in the '20s, the old places became genteel tea parlors, dress shops, cafés, or real estate offices; for some reason 3173 only seemed to continue to attract the bizarre and artistic. Following Dr. Wheeler's move to 2425 (itself having recently been a restaurant), William Millard Barker, a man who seemed to have just the right sort of name for an antiques dealer, moved in. But in addition to being listed as such a purveyor in city directories, with his business at 3173 called in newspaper advertising, in an Old English typeface, the "Old Furniture Shop," he also referred to himself the "Founder of the School of Egyptian Theosophy" and an "Instructor of Metaphysical and Mystical Teachers." Barker gave lectures in his "audience room" on such subjects as "If the Ancient Egyptians Believed in Reincarnation, Why Did They Mummify the Dead?", "The Secret Nature of Existum," and "Why Some People Refuse Their Place in Nature." He held actions in the house of the material leftovers of the departed. He himself departed this mortal coil at the age of 49 in June 1938. With less ethereal ambitions for moving inventory, Mary K. Henneghan followed Barker at 3173. Perhaps moving some of his same junk, she merely titled herself a "second-hand furniture dealer." Any normalcy would be short lived; in the wake of Henneghan came the Ramah Temple of Occultism. Yogi Ramah, the temple's "dean," appended his name in advertising as follows: "PhD., DD, Consultant, Psychologist, Psycho-Analyst, Psychic Master of the Ramah Temple of Occultism." In 1943, Pearl Tinker Sindelar, daughter of silent actress May Evelynne, and her husband Charles appear to have been living at 3173. A few years before, the Sindelars had been defendants in the fraud trials surrounding the I AM movement, a tangent of theosophy; among the group's claims were that for 22 consecutive nights at 2 a.m. in September 1929, Jesus Christ sat in the flesh for a portrait by Charles, then a fairly well-known artist. I AM adherents claimed that the painter was the reincarnation of both Lazarus and Leonardo da Vinci—who came first is unclear. (The Sindelars appear to have been acquitted of any wrongdoing.) There was a reason Los Angeles was considered balmy by those to the American east.
The old but remarkably stalwart Brodtbeck house finally became the locus of relatively normal purposes after World War II. A commercial structure had replaced the Kornblum-Sharp house at 3143 just to its east in 1932; the huge stucco pile of Ida Hancock Ross at 3189, which, when built in 1909 on the northeast corner of Wilshire and Vermont had reduced the appearance of 3173 to that of of a mere bungalow, had come down in 1938 and been replaced by billboards. Crowded now on all sides by the halls of trade and its detritus, 3173 hung on, perhaps a testament to Arthur B. Benton's design and a good contractor using the best materials. Wilshire Boulevard, always a hodgepodge of uses and never consistent in appearance, actually never even very pretty, would nevertheless remain a glamorous address for another few decades before beginning to decline. Small businesses, such as the Southern California School of Music and Arts that occupied 3173 after the war, loved the cachet of the name. Following, or perhaps overlapping tenancies with the school, was the Wilshire-Vermont Diagnostic x-ray laboratory; then came the Ray Quinlan dance studio, on the heels of which followed, moving east from 3500, the Wilshire branch of the famous Veloz and Yolanda dance studios, which remained as late as 1957.
The fun at 3173 came to a close with the final chapter of the house's story. Under whose auspices isn't clear, but Republican interests had either bought, or more likely leased, the "ancient brown mansion" (per the Times) by mid-1960. It opened as the Los Angeles headquarters for Nixon-Lodge on August 10. Six weeks later, the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates sealed the latter's fate. A year later, a group successful in persuading ex-governor Goodwin J. Knight to vie for the post again as the Republican draftee versus Nixon maintained its office at 3173. (After an extremely contentious struggle for the nomination, Knight pulled out and Nixon lost to Pat Brown.) Eight-year Republican mayor of Los Angeles Norris Poulson's headquarters for his third run was in the old Brodtbeck house, but he too lost; Sam Yorty began his long presence in the city as that of 3173 Wilshire Boulevard came to a close. In the end, it was acquired by the Bank of America, to which the Department of Building and Safety issued a permit for demolition on October 9, 1963. The 57-year-old house, one of the last holdouts of Wilshire Boulevard and suffocating in the shadows of adjacent buildings, gave way to that inevitable L. A. placeholder, the parking lot. Today the Wilshire/Vermont Metro station lies under the site, with tracks of the Red Line subway curving north toward the Valley.
After making inroads during the 1920s, trade began to invade Wilshire
Boulevard in indiscreet ways by the early '30s, especially at major intersections
such as Wilshire and Vermont. A flower stand now mocked the pretensions of 3189;
Dr. Wheeler continued to implant goat glands at 3173 next door. By 1932, the Korblum-Sharp
house at 3143 had been replaced by a low-rise commercial building newly typical of
the boulevard. By 1940, the Ida Hancock Ross house and its flower appendage had been
demolished, with billboards taking their place. The subsequent corner building
and the entire block were replaced by the Wilshire/Vermont Metro Station
and apartments that remain today, colorful but bland, and certainly
much more ephemeral looking than its predecessors.