3944 Wilshire Boulevard


While in the end residential Wilshire Boulevard was a failure in terms of consistency, one tract after another opened along it during the brief few decades of its cachet. Even as the thoroughfare developed westward from Westlake Park with sizable suburban properties having frontages generally of no less than 75 feet, there would remain spaces between some houses for many years that would never be built upon until commerce arrived. The narrower, relatively more affordable lots that began to become available in new tracts beyond Western Avenue around 1905 drew slightly less affluent residents, but never enough to fill every plot. The residential parcels of less-trafficked parallel streets to the north and south of the boulevard sold better. A gap-toothed effect set in on Wilshire, and to make matters even less appealing, real estate operators began by the late 1910s to rent unsold lots to advertisers. Enormous billboards aimed at the ever-increasing stream of motorists along Wilshire became a feature of the boulevard that would last for many years, in no way helping many boulevard householders' vain determination to create an exclusive linear neighborhood. Wilshire was becoming a highway to the Pacific, and, of course, where there was a river of cars, there would be commerce.

The house moved to 3944 Wilshire Boulevard was built over a decade earlier around the corner at
539 South Manhattan Place. It is seen there above in the March 10, 1912, Los Angeles Times.

But in 1906, the future envisioned for the boulevard remained grand-scale suburban. That year the Western-Wilshire Heights Tract went on sale. A rectangle between Wilshire and Eighth Street and Western Avenue and Wilton Place, its 24 lots fronting the boulevard were mostly 50 feet wide. Houses went up slowly—three by 1910, six by 1914. The one on Lot 8, facing north directly up Gramercy Place and addressed 3944 Wilshire, appeared as late as 1922. Its dated Craftsman design, however, was a clue to its having been been built elsewhere at least a decade earlier, which indeed it was. Real estate man Benton O. Johnson built it at 575 South Manhattan Place—renumbered to 539 in the citywide annexation-related address adjustments of 1912-13—by April 1910. By 1922 it was acquired by Twin Cities, an investment group, which was issued a Department of Buildings permit on November 6, 1922, to move the house to Wilshire Boulevard.

The house moved to 3944 Wilshire in 1922 (center left) was joined by others in its tract, but some
 billboards, a scourge of the boulevard, remained up to World War II. The 3900 block never
 became a cohesive neighborhood, but 3944 decided to stay and make the best of it.

The identities of subsequent owners remain somewhat elusive. By 1924 businessman J. Roy Owens and his wife Pauline were in residence; that year he was arrested as a fugitive of justice from charges of bootlegging in Seattle. Mack Sennett comedian Al Cooke moved in afterward; later Dr. William D. Noland lived at 3944 and practiced his "bloodless surgery" there.

What distinguished 3944 Wilshire Boulevard was not its Craftsman style, ubiquitous in Los Angeles in the second decade of the 20th century. Rather, it is remarkable because, as only a tiny handful of houses on the boulevard do, it still stands:

A recent aerial view facing south over the intersection of Wilshire and Gramercy
reveals the roof of 3944, at center, now over a century old. Its contours
may be compared to a circa-1935 view in the top photograph above
in which 3944 is the center house, behind the streetlamp.

A view of the south side of 3944, above, and one from
street level, below, reveal the deeded setback of Wilshire's
residential era. The east gable peak of 3944's roof appears above the
brickwork applied to the house and to the office structure that
appeared on the front of the lot by the early 1950s.

Illustrations: USCDL; LAT; Google Street View