3986 Wilshire Boulevard


Wool puller Leon E. Kauffman moved west with Los Angeles. While any claim to fame he may have had had more to do with a house overlooking the Pacific 14 miles away, on his way to the coast he and his family spent a few years at the southeast corner of Wilshire and Wilton Place, arriving a little late to the boulevard on what was already becoming a busy corner. Kauffman came with baggage from 1052 South Alvarado Street—baggage in the form of the house he had lived in there since 1907. On October 6, 1906, the Department of Buildings had issued a permit to real estate investor Daniel T. Althouse to build 1052, one of his firm's many speculative projects; the Los Angeles Herald reported on the following March 27 that the house had found a buyer in Kauffman for a permanent residence, the consideration being $16,000. The exterior design of the house was not commented upon in the article; only the interior of the house was described in detail: "The interior is finished in quarter-sawed oak floors throughout the house. There are large mantels; swell front buffet; walls are paneled with quartered oak; ceilings are beamed and paneled. There are three bath rooms, servants' quarters and laundry."

A wider view toward the southeast corner of Wilshire and Wilton Place, circa 1930: A new boulevard
was taking shape by the time of the Wall Street crash, one that would see houses swept away for
commerce. Most development would take place to the east in a shopping district dominated
by the tower of Bullock's-Wilshire and to the west along the famous Miracle Mile, leav-
ing the 3900 and 4000 blocks to develop much more slowly and allowing for a
few residential survivors such as 3974 Wilshire (left), demolished only in
2017. This image is from the files of the 
 Charlie Chaplin Office,
which serves as the representative of the holder of copy-
rights to many Chaplin films. It is thought to be a
scouting shot for the star's 1931 City Lights.

While there were some minor interior alterations once the house was on its new site, the exterior appears to have been completely redesigned in a modern style, one that would have been highly unlikely to have been seen in a Los Angeles house built in 1906. After the first World War, squared-off domestic house designs such as American Georgian became popular among Angelenos now bored with the hulking Craftsman profile; had Wilshire Boulevard retained its residential character, we might today have an incredible living museum of American domestic architecture, from turreted Victorian through Craftsman to Mediterranean to Georgian and Federal revivals and modern pre– and post–World War II styles. Kauffman hired the firm of Edelman & Zimmerman, whose predecessor firm, Edelman & Barnett, was responsible for 3240, 3325, and 3350 Wilshire, to update the house he relocated to 3986 in 1922 along the lines of a classic brick-veneered suburban Georgian residence, one unique to the boulevard.

A glimpse of the Kauffman house immediately after its relocation from
Alvarado Street to Wilshire Boulevard appears in this fragment of a frame
from the 1923 Baby Peggy comedy short The Kid Reporter; the building's original
siding can be seen as the structure sits on beams awaiting its remodeling. Below are
Leon, Lazare, Clemence, and Lorraine Kauffman in a 1924 passport picture before
sailing around the world. They were by then living in their drastically altered
house at the already busy intersection of Wilshire and Wilton Place.

Born in Russia in 1872, Kauffman had come down to Los Angeles from San Francisco after the turn of the century. Prospering in the wool-and-hide trade, first with partners and later on his own, in 1906 he married Clemence Marx, a native Californian 15 years his junior. The couple moved from 840 South Burlington into the substantial new Alvarado Street house a month after their son Lazare was born on April 1, 1907. Lorraine arrived three years later. It was the need for wool uniforms during World War I that made Leon a millionaire; by the early '20s, Alvarado street had become a busy thoroughfare, its corner lots ripe for redevelopment. As Los Angeles expanded inexorably west, many homeowners took advantage of an option that the local density and economy of the times afforded by taking their houses with them to new lots. Kauffman's choice of a new residential site seems curious given that by 1922, Wilshire Boulevard was even busier than Alvarado and Wilton on its way to becoming a through north-south street. Recent neighborhoods well beyond Wilton such as Windsor Square and Fremont Place were generally the preferred Wilshire districts of the affluent, with lots in them away from the boulevard more desirable than those on it. Kauffman's selection of another corner lot would not seem to have been wise. On the other hand, it could be that he understood the future of Wilshire Boulevard quite well, with A. W. Ross, envisioning what would become the Miracle Mile, having already bought property two miles west of the road's intersection with Wilton Place. Perhaps Kauffman knew that moving his house to that corner would be a temporary move and that, even with a drastic remodeling in the form of brick veneer over its original clapboards, the expense would be recouped with the projected rise of Wilshire lot values—already Ross's purchase was fueling speculation of a commercial future for the entire boulevard. At any rate, the Department of Buildings issued a relocation permit on May 2, 1922; the Kauffmans would be in their longtime house with its altogether different architectural guise in a new location for five more years.

Wide views east on Wilshire from just west of Wilton Place, with slivers of 3986 at far right, 1923 
and 1930: The house next to 3986 is 3974, demolished in 2017. By 1928 the boulevard had
been widened and the distinctive Wilshire Special lamps installed as far west as
Fairfax Avenue. In 1929, the district's first height-limit structure, the
13-story Wilshire Professional Building, was completed at
the northeast corner of St. Andrews Place.

By 1928, with persistent empty lots hosting only billboards, any idea of Wilshire Boulevard ever becoming a true residential thoroughfare was long dead. Property owners gave in, and, usually well compensated, cashed out and moved still farther westward to new developments. In addition to Windsor Square, Fremont Place and Hancock Park (subdivided in 1920) in what was referred to as the "West End"—to which, among others, 2619, 3200, 3250, 3325, and 3558 Wilshire were moved—were Beverly Hills and new western suburbs on its far side that were now part of Los Angeles proper. The Kauffmans went all the way to the sea, although this time they left their old house behind. They moved in 1928 to the Villa Leon, the result of Leon making good on a promise to Clemence to build her a palace by the sea. Daughter Lorraine would go on to several marriages and living for decades just 12 blocks west of 3986 Wilshire, her house at 655 Rimpau Boulevard in Hancock Park being just a lot north of the boulevard. 

The house at 3986 Wilshire Boulevard was soon given over to commerce. Auctioneer A. H. Weil took over the house, followed by his colleague George Fisher. A large building on a prominent corner, before long with a filling station across Wilton, the house appears to have accommodated for a time both businesses and residences before becoming purely commercial. As things turned out, the Kauffman house lasted longer than might have been expected after it was moved to the boulevard 41 years before. The Department of Building and Safety issued a permit for its demolition on December 13, 1963, with Gaylord Wilshire's idea of a boulevard of grand dwellings just a distant memory.

A detail of the west front corner of 3986 Wilshire Boulevard
reveals its post-Victorian and post-Craftsman simplicity, covered
only eight years after the house's relocation and redesign by the elaborate
neon display of noted 
Hollywood portrait artist Melbourne Spurr, who moved
his studio into the building in 1933. Spurr also
 used 3986's long iron fence
to great effect, with motorists eastbound 
on Wilshire Boulevard
and southbound on Wilton unlikely to miss his changing sign.

In 1932 a Union Oil Company station opened across Wilton Place from
the Kauffman house and garage. After photographer Melbourne Spurr moved
out of 3986 and a permit was issued by the Department of Building and Safety on
August 11, 1938, a 32-by-52-foot storefront was added to the house. This is seen
below on December 1, 1960, when it was housing the North American Life &
Casualty Company. Some parts of the Kaufmanns' fence remain intact.

The view of the Wilshire/Wilton intersection viewed from the northwest,
circa 1975 and 2015; by the spring of 2019, the seven-story redevelopment
of the entire corner was under way, its Wilton Place façade, stretching south
a block to Ingraham Street, seen in the architectural rendering below.