3986 Wilshire Boulevard

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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." 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, foursquare 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.


Leon, Lazare, Clemence, and Lorraine in a 1924 passport picture
before sailing around the world; the Kauffmans were
living at 3986 at the time of the trip.


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 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 if 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, which still stands. By 1928 the
boulevard had been widened and the distinctive Wilshire Special lamps
installed as far west as Fairfax Avenue. The district's first height-
limit structure, the 13-story Wilshire Professional Building
Buildingwas completed at Manhattan Place in 1929.


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.

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.


In 1932 a Union Oil Company station opened across Wilton Place from the Kauffman
house and garage, seen in the background with the property's fence intact.


The view of the Wilshire/Wilton intersection viewed from the northwest, circa 1975 and 2015;
plans as of the summer of 2016 call for the seven-story redevelopment of the entire corner.



Illustrations: USCDLLAPL; Ancestry; Google Street View