3677 Wilshire Boulevard

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Within a few years of Gaylord Wilshire's 1895 purchase and subsequent platting of property between Westlake and Sunset parks, property owners along the existing westward dirt road to which the Wilshire subdivision's main drag connected began to see more than just agricultural gold in their barley fields. Within a decade, development was stirring even beyond the city limits at Western Avenue, still hopelessly distant to many before the Model T arrived in late 1908. Holdouts such as Germain Pellissier at the southeast corner of Wilshire and Western—and his heirs after his death in January 1908, all the way to 1913—remained, but it was now a given that, after an initial push toward the southwest to the West Adams District from the old pueblo, a new direction was being established. The two compass lines would be rivals for affluent homeseekers for another two decades until Wilshire-wise won.





Directly across Wilshire Boulevard from the Pellissier property was one of several large tracts in the vicinity bought by Sidney L. Briggs in the mid-'00s for immediate development. Perhaps named after the very fashionable street in Pasadena, the first phase of the Kensington Place tract, offering 84 lots, opened in 1905. In the usual pattern of sales in new westerly subdivisions in Los Angeles, buyers were divided between those intending to flip and those intending to build without delay. It appears that the very southeast corner of Kensington Place, comprised of Lots 83 and 84, may have first been purchased from Briggs in May 1906 by Eliza J. Sanborn, a widow whose lumber-dealer husband must have left her well-fixed; she spent years buying and selling Los Angeles properties, sometimes placing parcels in the name of her daughter, Helen. Eliza was a flipper, and so might her purchaser have been, given that he, too, was a real estate investor. As it turned out, Robert H. Edwards wanted the Kensington Place lots for himself. Within two years, Edwards was building a Mission Revival house and consonant garage, the building permits for which were issued on March 31, 1908. Some subdivisions with Wilshire frontage required that all houses be built facing the north-south streets, even those on corner lots along the boulevard. While some corner homeowners retained the original side-street designations of their lots, others quickly took advantage of the boulevard's prestige and adapted Wilshire numbering; later, as commerce took over the thoroughfare in the '20s, businesses occupying many not-so-old corner houses almost invariably did so. While permits for the construction of Edwards's house were issued for 647 South Hobart Boulevard, he moved into 3677 Wilshire Boulevard.

Real estate men who bought property for their own residences on Wilshire Boulevard usually did so less with an idea of domestic permanence in mind than profit, perhaps suspecting, correctly, that the avenue might someday become important enough to be given over to commercial use. While in 1908 there was really no way for even the sharpest investor to know, this did happen along Wilshire, and, in Edwards's case, barely 15 years after he built his house. By 1922, Edwards was living in Pasadena and, interestingly, no less a Hollywood luminary than Irving Thalberg was in residence, listed at 3677 in the 1921 and 1922 city directories—before is M.G.M. days—as general manager of what was then called the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. The Wilshire Boulevard Temple announced plans for its new building across Hobart Boulevard in 1925; by the time it was dedicated in 1929, the Edwards property had already long been given over to commerce. A Los Angeles campus of Pasadena's Orton School for Girls was in the house in 1923 before moving to 3300 Wilshire; that year, Standard Oil had acquired the barn separately, moved it slightly, and added a canopy to use the corner as a service station; the Samovar Inn opened in the house in 1924, followed in 1927 by the Golden Poppy, which seems to have been a short-lived venture.


On December 15, 1869, way before Tallulah Bankhead, Irene Hobson was born
 in Alabama before hitting the road in touring companies of Broadway shows.
 Perhaps emulating her costar Elsie de Wolfe, who famously became a
 decorator of revolutionary talents and later became Lady Mendl,
Irene would go onto to become a countess—for seven months.


Enter Irene Hobson—or Irehne, depending on her whim, it seems—actress (onetime costar and friend of Elsie de Wolfe), beautician, self-described metaphysician, plastic surgeon, countess, authoress, depending on the year. An Alabama-born lady of smoke and mirrors and many faces, one of the unsung characters of Hollywood, the apparently widowed Mrs. Hobson appears to have arrived in Los Angeles to break into movies well past her chronological qualifications for ingenue roles. But then she did seem to have a knack for disguising her age, and that of others. She used whatever tricks she learned applying greasepaint to launch a new career when movie roles—if there ever were any—dried up. After a stint with a "toilette parlor" on Sunset Boulevard, she opened another such business at 3100 Wilshire in 1927—once the home of Reuben Shettler. Irehne also bought 3677 that year and opened another shop, and, for who knows what reasons, whim or marketing, decided to add an "H" to her given name. The spelling decided, she took out permits on November 14, 1928, for the installation of a rooftop sign; two years later she added a city-required fire escape to the Wilshire façade. Irehne seems at some point in the late '20s to have teamed up with another Alabama woman, apparently her niece, eventually practicing their cosmetological wizardry in both of their names in old houses all along the boulevard; the niece, Ethel Francis, became Ethele in the family tradition and referred to herself in advertisements as a "face rejuvenator." It might cross one's mind that Ethele was actually an alter-ego of Irehne's, but then both ladies—neither of whom appears to have had any medical training—were sued in 1930 by a customer blinded by a facelift. Lawsuits do not appear to have discouraged bejowled matrons from continuing to patronize Irehne and Ethele. Up would pop a new shop. By 1932, Irehne was at 3349 Wilshire. A few years later, she was renting space in the old Gardner house at 3020while Ethele would go on to nip and tuck and fluff at 4444 and 4451.


Not a typo: One of the more subtle affectations of Irene Hobson was her adoption of an
extra "H" during 1928. Parts Belle Watling, Mae West, Texas Guinan, and Barbara
Cartland, Mrs. Hobson was never at a loss for reinvention. One thing she never
did was lie about her age; in fact, in the ads above, from February and
July 1928, she has actually added a year to her age.


Her nine lives hardly used up, Irehne became a countess in 1946. Her count was the classic movie-comedy no-count count, complete with theatrical beard and monocle—little about Irehne's life was not stagey. Her bid for a life above one tinged with shades of Belle Watling and Mildred Pierce faltered after a year amid the inevitable charges by the count that his countess had married him just for his title and equally inevitable countercharges that he had only wanted hard-earned money from her. While it was back to the maisons de beauté—and to offering tricks of the trade in her 1950 book Wings to Youth—it should come as no surprise that it wasn't until 1967 that the indomitable Ihrene retreated to Forest Lawn. She was 97 years young.


One-upping Elsie de Wolfe, whose husband was a mere if actual knight, Irehne became a
 countess at 76 when she married actor, commercial artist, and alleged Austrian count
Rudolf von Stefenelli on September 1, 1946, at her home (and newest salon) on
Berendo Street a block south of Wilshire. The next April, it was splitsville.



A permit for the demolition of the old Edwards house was issued on June 19, 1937; as can be seen in our top illustration here—the only known view of the house—it remained in place with the relatively gigantic bulk of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple across the street for eight years. During its last years it was back in use as a Hollywood hangout called Sam Holland's Corner.





Illustrations: LAPLLATancestry.com