3932 Wilshire Boulevard
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Western-Wilshire Heights was opened in early 1906, one of many tracts beyond Western Avenue to develop between 1905 and 1910. Binding lot buyers were restrictions similar to those of other subdivisions in the area: The lots were for residential purposes only; a 40-foot setback between curb and façade or porch was dictated; while minimum improvement costs varied from tract to tract and within tracts, the developers of Western-Wilshire Heights specified an average of $4,000. Prices were usually higher for lots closer to Wilshire Boulevard; this may have slowed their sales but, even with automobile traffic increasing as the decade wore on, especially after the introduction of the Model T in late 1908, boulevard frontage retained the highest investment potential and was thus of great interest to wise investors despite any noise considerations. The smartest could deduce that where there were cars, there would eventually be commerce. Some who sought Wilshire frontage may have bought to build homes knowing that they might someday have to move but with the reward of being able to cash out at a high profit, others may have only been interested in the prestige of a boulevard address. Some lot buyers may have assumed that the original residential edicts of Western-Wilshire Heights assured boulevard domesticity in perpetuity. What motivated mortician Wendell Hamilton Sutch and his wife Gertrude to leave West Adams Heights for Lot 10 of Western-Wilshire Heights is unclear, but the family retained ownership of their house there well beyond his death in 1925.
|Advertisements for the newly opened Western-Wilshire Heights|
began to appear in January 1906 and continued for years.
In viewing the rather scant photographic evidence of the Wilshire stretch between Normandie and Norton avenue—few clear pictures have surfaced of individual houses here, though period aerial views do show architectural styles well enough—it appears that house transfers to it from older districts of Los Angeles were not uncommon. Indeed, the George R. Kress House Moving Company, among other firms, seems to have had quite a few projects in progress at any one time between World War I and the Depression, many from older suburban neighborhoods near downtown as well as from fading West Adams. The styles of some houses between the Ambassador Hotel and Norton Avenue appear to predate their appearance on Wilshire Boulevard. While clear views of the Sutch house are so far elusive, it can be seen from such as the snippet of a photograph (at top) taken on April 20, 1926, from the roof of the newly completed (and now demolished) Morgan, Walls & Clements–designed Wilshire Arts Building at the northeast corner of Wilshire and Manhattan Place. At center of the snippet is the Sutch house, which wasn't built on the boulevard, but rather was moved there from where it was built two miles almost due south.
|Looking west from a high perch in the Wilshire Professional Building at the northeast corner|
of Wilshire Boulevard and St. Andrews Place, 1937. The north side of Wilshire beyond
Vermont was for various reasons always less favored for residences than the south side and was consequently given over to commerce sooner. Beyond St. James
Episcopal Church at lower right were, among other businesses across the
street from 3932 in the '30s, Elizabeth Arden, a short-lived branch of
the Brown Derby, and later, in the same Bilicke Building space,
the first Perino's. The Sutch house is the first beyond the
storefront at left; beyond it are 3938, 3944, and 3950,
all of which survived at least into the mid 1950s.
Wendell and Gertrude Sutch had commissioned the esteemed firm of Hudson & Munsell to design their house just north of the northwest corner of La Salle Boulevard and West 21st Street in the West Adams Heights tract in 1908. Lot T of block 11 was in a section of smaller parcels in the subdivision, among the most exclusive of Los Angeles's early-20th-century suburban developments; hard by Berkeley Square and later the core of Sugar Hill, it was developed as part of the westward expansion of the West Adams District. The Department of Buildings issued Wendell Sutch permit for a 10-room house on September 4, 1908. Then in the 1910s there developed a parallel race for prestige and a sense of settled permanency between the West Adams corridor and that of Wilshire Boulevard two miles north. After less than 10 years at 2075 La Salle Boulevard, the Sutches decided to move up to the northerly thoroughfare and take their house with them. They obviously can't have known that the Santa Monica Freeway would be plowing through their West Adams Heights property 50 years later—not that their luck was any better as commerce began to plow down Wilshire in the '20s. The Sutches bought their lot in Western-Wilshire Heights ("Heights" was key to selling Los Angeles once upon a time) in August 1916, or rather it was bought by Gertrude Sutch, following a not unusual practice of prosperous men then and now of providing security for their wives and perhaps tax advantages for themselves. The September 17, 1917, issue of Southwest Builder and Contractor reported that it was Mrs. Sutch who signed contracts to have the house relocated from 2075 La Salle to 3932 Wilshire and to build a new garage there; the Department of Buildings had issued its permit for the move on September 4th. While newspapers would later report the transits with parties taking place inside of the Verbecks from 2619 Wilshire and the Crails to 4451, it is not known if the Sutches remained in their house during its several-days progress up Western Avenue or exactly when the transfer occurred during 1917. But the house was on its new Wilshire foundation and ready for Christmas visitors that year.
|Wendell H. Sutch and his son Arlington R. Sutch|
checking the obituaries for proper
credit of the family firm.
Wendell Sutch had arrived in Los Angeles in 1882 from Bourbon, Indiana, where he'd built a successful funeral business. He'd been born during the Civil War in Canton, Ohio, on March 31, 1862. Once in California, he became associated with B. F. Orr in the undertaking trade, marrying Gertrude Wiley in 1888 and pausing away from the slab for several years during the '90s to pursue profit in real estate dealings. He re-entered the undertaking trade in the fall of 1898; by 1915, his company was known as W. H. Sutch, which, judging by the daily appearance of the firm's name in obituary columns and the owner's station in life—the houses in fashionable neighborhoods, for example—made Wendell a very successful Angeleno. The Sutches had two children, a daughter, Eleanore, and a son, Arlington, who later cofounded the Los Angeles wholesale dry-goods firm of Winne & Sutch. Retirement did not seem to sit well with Wendell; after selling his business in 1922, he would live only a few more years, expiring at 3932 on April 14, 1925.
|Among those to whom 3932 was leased for business|
purposes was violinist Cyril Godwin, well known to
Angelenos from his radio shows. He held
classes in the Sutch house in 1940.
Trade had begun sweeping west along Wilshire Boulevard several years before, picking up steam once rumblings of A. W. Ross's Miracle Mile plans became public. While the stretch from Western toward Highland Avenue resisted the commercial trend longer than other segments, and has never given way to any significant highrise development, Wilshire's days as the residential thoroughfare were numbered. Some houses were demolished. After 1927, when Mildred Little, owner of two Western-Wilshire Heights lots at the southwest corner of Western, managed to win a court case allowing her to devote her front yard to commerce, the path was clear. Before long, storefronts rose on the lawns of some houses, and some lots, including that just east of 3932, were occupied by large if lowrise commercial development. Houses that weren't demolished—and many on the southside 3900 block of Wilshire were to hang on, many retaining their lawns, into the '50s—were leased to various enterprises. It appears that Gertrude Sutch remained in her beloved 3932 well after Wendell had availed himself of his own services. She appears to have retained ownership of the house perhaps as late as 1940, if not later, deciding to live elsewhere sometime before 1935 and turn the old house into rental property. It was offered for lease several times before being put up for sale toward the end of 1938. Old Wilshire houses were typically becoming ladies' tea parlors or dress shops, dancing schools, or, very often, real estate offices, with many comings and goings through the '30s and '40s. Among the tenants of the old Sutch house was concert violinist Cyril Godwin, who was teaching classes in its Edwardian parlors in 1940.
|The Sutch house gave way to a new 3932 in 1956, this advertisement|
appearing in the Times on January 15. According to the assessor's
office, it was remodeled five years later into the building
that stands on the property today, seen below, one
that covers the entire 60-by-150-foot lot.
It is not known precisely how long Gertrude retained ownership of Western-Wilshire Heights's Lot 10, but she herself held on until January 30, 1950, when she retreated to Rosedale to be with Wendall. Her house outlasted her. Its end came soon after the Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit on December 20, 1954; the day before there had appeared in the Times the announcement of a new commercial replacement that opened in May 1956. While the Sutch house actually lasted a surprising 47 years in two places, it was eventually scraped away. As a token of the old neighborhood, one ever-stubborn holdout of old residential Wilshire Boulevard remains two doors west behind the current façade of 3944.