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Few unsung Californians have ever led a more colorful life than Adolph Ramish who, from his birth in Gold Rush country in 1862 to his death in Los Angeles in 1944, rode the waves of the Hawaiian sugar trade, the trucking business, real estate, railroad building, the oil industry, and, most famously, the movies, all in cinematic style. While his dealings in land mostly involved theaters—he was later a founder and owner of the West Coast Theatre chain—for his residence he chose, rather late in the residential-to-commercial evolution of Wilshire Boulevard, the northeast corner of Kingsley Drive. Later given the address of 3563 Wilshire Boulevard when it was turned over to commerce years later, the large white Mediterranean Revival pile he built reveals Ramish to have had more of a sense of adventure in his business dealings rather than in the details of his own home, although this was probably more of a reflection of his disinterest in domestic arrangements relative to his wife Dellaphene's. A man who enjoyed a good cigar with his cronies and one always with his eye on the main chance, he was rather more successful than most of the downtown establishment. Other than money-making and the art of the deal, Adolph appears to have been little interested in that group's strict WASP-oriented bourgeois rituals and prejudices. It was up to Dellaphene Ramish to choose and keep a house where the couple's Hollywood friends could be entertained. As were many spouses of rich investors of the day, she had long been included in the real estate dealings of her husband, at least on paper, but especially when it came to their primary residence. Due to traffic and higher prices, quite a few residential lots fronting Wilshire Boulevard remained on the market longer than those off the thoroughfare; Lot 24 of the Normandy Hill Tract had remained empty well after the opening of the subdivision in early 1906. The George F. Gettys—J. Paul's parents—had built 646 South Kingsley at the northwest corner of Wilshire 12 years before the Ramishes bought the unimproved northeast lot in 1920 with plans to build and an architect in mind. Harold H. Whiteley was versatile when it came to popular Southern California domestic designs, having completed English, Spanish, and Classical styles across the region. Once the Ramishes approved his plans, the Department of Buildings issued a permit to begin construction on August 14, 1920; Adolph acted as his own contractor. When finished, the house was given a side-street address in accordance with its east-west orientation as dictated by Normandy Hill's developers. The Ramishes would enjoy a few relatively quiet years in their new marble palace. As it turned out, they would not be the only Wilshire builders to miscalculate the rapid segue to commercial zoning along the thoroughfare. The new Wilshire must have finally struck them like gongs when a Texaco station opened caddy-corner to the house by the end of the '20s, chimes signaling each car entering and exiting. Yet despite the roar and ringing of internal combustion, they stayed and stayed.
Adolph Ramish, circa 1912
After early years in the Sandwich Islands under the auspices of sugarman Claus Spreckels, Adolph Ramish settled in Los Angeles and became a successful building contractor with his longtime partner Martin C. Marsh, their firm constructing, among other large-scale projects, the Saugus tunnel for a new Southern Pacific coastal route in 1899. After the turn of the century, eyeing the possibilities presented by the burgeoning entertainment industry, Ramish proceeded to build theaters, thereby before long becoming a force in movies. He began to buy downtown property for his projects; an early such one was his acquisition of the Panorama Building on Main Street, attached to which was a 16-sided rotunda opened in 1887 as a venue for a 400-by-50-foot copy of the "Siege of Paris"—called the "Battle of Paris" in Los Angeles—depicting the last clash in the Franco-Prussian war after which the capital of France fell in January 1871. After various later uses including stables and a skating rink, Ramish demolished the rotunda and replaced it and its entrance building of offices with the Adolphus Theatre in 1911, upgraded and renamed the Hippodrome two years later. In addition to the playhouses he built, Ramish's other notable downtown real estate venture was his 1919 acquisition of former Spring Street school board property on which he intended to build a new theater. When those plans didn't pan out and rapidly rising property values made flipping the parcel more lucrative, the plot was sold to developers who in 1924 erected what is today the Broadway Arcade.
No full-façade images of 646 South Kingsley Drive have been found; a partial view is seen at left above in a 1927 rotogravure illustration depicting a vintage-car caravan moving west along Wilshire Boulevard. Just beyond 646 is 3555 Wilshire, built in 1907 as the first house in this district—it is at this point in time the home of Milnor, Incorporated, importers of Asian goods, hence the undulating dragon on its roof. The tower belongs to the Wilshire Christian Church at Normandie Avenue; beyond it are the Gaylord Apartments and at right, the Talmadge.
Ramish, at any rate becoming distracted by the oil industry, sold his West Coast Theatres, in which he was partnered with Sol Lesser and Joseph Schenck, to William Fox in 1925. Not content with the many millions he'd already accumulated in his several successful careers—added to his years as a builder, he'd also become even more closely allied with Hollywood as a movie producer, said to have discovered among others Stan Laurel—he seized upon an opportunity along with many rich Los Angeles muckety-mucks, those of the haughty downtown establishment as well as Hollywood bigshots such as Louis B. Mayer. While avarice and the thrill of the money chase seem to have led Ramish more or less innocently into becoming part of the nortorious Julian Petroleum pyramid scheme, given that his losses were insignificant in terms of his overall wealth and the legal tangle just part of the fray, his involvement in the affair didn't sour him on oil—not with ever more fuel-hungry cars transforming Los Angeles and the rest of the country. His settlement with Julian receivers—Ramish was a winner, never a loser—netted him a large block of stock in the Sunset Pacific Oil Company, the less felonious successor to Julian. He continued to invest lucratively for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, despite the reign of commercial terror along the boulevard, the residential stalwarts of the northerly Wilshire-and-Kingsley corners remained. George F. Getty—J. Paul's father—had died in 1930, but his widow would remain on the northwest corner at 647 South Kingsley until she died eleven years later. The Ramishes stayed across the street even longer.
Married the day before, Dellaphene and Dolph Ramish were featured prominently in the Times on February 15, 1904; the builder had been well known in Los Angeles since not long after his arrival nearly 20 years before.
Forty-one-year-old Adolph Ramish had married Dellaphene Speck—or was it Dellaphene Calihan?—in Los Angeles on Valentine's Day 1904. The bride's background is somewhat murky; sources seem to agree that she was born in Ohio in 1872, but there are conflicting references to one or possibly two prior marriages. In any case, the one that took was to "Dolph" Ramish, despite his being termed by the Times at the time of the wedding a "rollicking, fancy-free charmer" who was "the last man in town that anybody thought would get married." While they would have no children, the Ramishes remained close to his sister Sarah and his stepbrother Ralph Davis as well as to various nieces and nephews on both sides; some of the family would continue the Ramish investment company, which still included theaters, for years to come after Dolph's death. Dellaphene died on September 20, 1939, just 13 days shy of her 67th birthday; Dolph stayed on at 646 to his own end, expiring in the house on November 23—Thanksgiving Day—1944 at 82. There was a new owner of the Ramish house in short order.
Innocente Pedroli had once been the chef and co-owner with head of entertainment and grand opera baritone Bert Rovere of the fabled Paris Inn, a colorful downtown restaurant of the singing-waiter kind. Pedroli appears to have bought the Ramish house lock, stock, and barrel. An advertisement in the Times on May 6, 1945, announced that he had commissioned an auction to sell the Ramishes' belongings, everything from draperies to davenports to kitchen utensils. Whether or not Pedroli ever took up residence in the house is unclear; rather, it appears that the process of carving it up into apartments and, later, commercial spaces, began. Copease, a large, then-novel copy shop, insurance and real estate firms, and manufacturers' representatives would occupy the house, unusually durable for a boulevard by now roaring with trade, into the '60s. The end finally came shortly after the Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit on June 10, 1963. The northeast corner of Wilshire and Kingsley is now occupied mostly by parking lot, increasing rare on the boulevard without a skyscraper above; right at the corner is a small, single-story building that opened in 1970 as an outlet of the Copper Penny coffee shop chain once familiar to Angelenos. Today it is the BCD Tofu House.
Along with drayage, street railways were disallowed in Gaylord Wilshire's original subdivision, a covenant that was extended with the boulevard. The Los Angeles Motor Coach Company was formed by the Pacific Electric and Los Angeles railways to instead run buses along Wilshire; the image above featuring the Ramish house is dated 1930. All that remains on the northerly corners of Wilshire and Kingsley Drive of the residential era, are, remarkably, living things—the palms—which are taller, as are the buildings, including the one that replaced the George F. Getty house at left; the St. Basil Catholic Church was built in 1969. The next year, a Copper Penny coffee shop, today a tofu restaurant, opened across Kingsley on the site of the Ramish house.