651 South Hobart Boulevard


The various oily Gettys figuring into Los Angeles history all seem to have gravitated to Wilshire Boulevard to build or buy their piles, but so did at least one Getty who, though he also derived his riches from the earth, seems unrelated. Born in West Hebron, New York, on April 19, 1854, Andrew Getty arrived in Southern California at the age of 24. He settled in what became Orange County a year before it was split off from Los Angeles County, opening a grocery business in Tustin while also pursuing a banking career. It seems that Getty never intended to be a grocer all his life, or even just a banker—he'd come west to build. Eventually not content with small-scale operations, he invested in mining; in his obituary, Getty would be credited as a developer of the Southern California mining industry. His son Andrew C. Getty had moved to the big city—Los Angeles—by 1915, and, once his father struck it rich with his stake in Blue Star Mines, senior Getty followed junior. Had Senior not been a man given to speculation, he might have thought better of putting up the big house for just he and his wife, Anna, at the increasingly busy southwest corner of Wilshire and Hobart boulevards in the Pellissier Square tract, in which he also bought two other lots to build 729 and 735 South Hobart on spec. The prestige of Wilshire frontage probably meant something to newly rich people coming from a small town, but, certainly by 1918, motor traffic along the boulevard was growing by leaps and bounds. A house on a lot nearby but well off the thoroughfare, such as one of his spec houses or Andrew Jr.'s at 111 North Mariposa Street, would have been more salubrious, and yet, as a banker might just have known, even one from a small town, property along a busy road could only rise in value. The formidable mansion Andrew Getty Sr. built in 1918 was late to the game, but the profit he realized just five years later may well have paid for his next house with some left over for a retreat at the beach.

Where Germain Pellissier's sheep once roamed, houses and apartment buildings began to rise by
the mid 1910s. Henry de Roulet developed his grandfather's property, stipulating that there
would be no commercial development within the tract until 1925. Homeowners fought
 without success to extend the restriction beyond that date; businesses arrived
and the height-limit Pellisier Building at Wilshire and Western was in
place by 1931. The rear of Andrew Getty's 651 South Hobart
Boulevard is seen to the left of the billboard circa 1927.

The Pellissier Square subdivision was half of a 156-acre tract at the southeast corner of what would become Wilshire and Western purchased from the Southern Pacific by Frenchman Germain Pellissier in 1882. At first operating a sheep ranch on his near quarter-section, Pellissier understood that the real money lay in his property investment, situated as it was directly in the path of the development of Los Angeles, the city limits of which were clearly gunning to push westward; after selling parts of his hot land to other developers, Pellissier's corner acreage remained unplatted until after after his death in 1908. His widow then went to town, replacing the ranch house that had been on the property for 30 years with a big house at Seventh and Serrano somewhat more Victorian than modern but intended to demonstrate the lavish scale of construction expected of lot buyers after streets were cut through following the City Council's approval of the subdivision in April 1913. Lots 186 and 187 languished on the market until Andrew Getty bought them five years later and hired prominent architect T. Beverley Keim to build a Colonial pastiche covered not in clapboard but rather sprayed with modern reinforced Gunite. Per subdivision dictates, the 12-room, L-shaped house faced east on Hobart Boulevard rather than toward Wilshire. Its longer side elevation was to the south. The Department of Buildings issued a permit to begin construction on January 24, 1918; by autumn, the Gettys settled in for a short stay before moving to 501 South Kingsley, a quieter corner a few blocks away that would be their home until soon after Andrew's death in 1941.

The view above is based on a photograph that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on
March 18, 1923, at the time of its transfer from Andrew Getty to high-flyer
James A. Talbot. As seen in a view slightly toward the northwest, the
L-shaped 651 South Hobart appears massive in comparison
to a southwesterly angle from Wilshire Boulevard
as seen at top upon completion in 1918.

Back in the year 1923, perhaps realizing that while their Wilshire corner may have promised profit, it was simply too noisy—developmental frenzy would turn the intersection of Wilshire and Western into the country's (if not the world's) busiest by 1928, per the city's vehicle count—the Gettys found a big pigeon who was either another mogul in need of a showplace to celebrate his success or who understood like they had, and Germain Pellissier before them, that Wilshire frontage could only be a gold mine. As it turned out, their successor was willing to endure incessant Klaxon quacks even past the time when restrictions limiting Pellissier Square to residential development were swept away after a fight among tract homeowners. Big Swinging Dick James Arnold Talbot, who would prove to be a man in the end more interested in personal profit than aesthetics or ethics, relieved the Gettys of 646 South Hobart in March 1923.

James A. Talbot was given to justifying his personal indulgences by claiming them to be
invaluable advertising for the Richfield Oil Company. His idea of corporate cross-
pollination were seen in his personal Fokker F-10: in addition to Richfield,
Talbot was chairman of the Fokker Aircraft Company of America and
a backer of Western Air Express, which bought more F-10s.

James A. Talbot was probably too consumed with his many business concerns to notice the cacophony outside his new house; perhaps he just plonked down the cash, seduced by vague suggestions of his romantic upper Southern heritage in its white columns and roof balustrade imitative of the one then decorating Mount Vernon. Born in Paris, Kentucky, on December 13, 1879, Talbot was a great-great grandson of James Garrard, the second governor of that state. He was also a great-great nephew of Henry Clay, but, as these things go, later progeny often get lost in the mists of ancient glory. Talbot saw his opportunities on the Pacific Coast, where he made his own glory, at least until it came undone. Living in Los Angeles by 1902, marrying Lucy Thomson there that April and immediately taken up by Society, Talbot was within eight years the vice-president and general manager of the Western Pipe & Steel Company based in San Francisco. The Talbots appear to have moved regularly during their first period of residency in L.A., spending a few years in West Adams and other years just off the original four-block stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, a mile and a half from their future house on Hobart Boulevard. Before returning to Los Angeles after living for much of the 1910s in San Francisco, Talbot widened his business scope by adding the vice presidency and general managership of the Southwestern Shipbuilding Company to his résumé. With a fat finger in every new pot, he took an interest in air transportation and became chairman of the board of the Fokker Aircraft Company of America in 1928, which provided him with a private Trimotor and new aircraft for fledgling Western Air Express, of which he was a principal backer. But it was his association with the Richfield Oil Company that would convey him on the arc of the '20s to San Quentin.

 Enroute fom Los Angeles to Chicago in June 1928, James A. Talbot, left, flies with
Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Fokker on his Fokker Trimotor. It appears that there
was no point in talking above the roar and vibration of 27 cylinders.

While scandal had touched the Talbots prior to the '30s, it was only in the relatively benign form of the elopement of their only child, James Thomson Talbot. In April 1921, having only just reached his 17th birthday, six-foot-tall Jimmie became rather more than enamored of 20-year-old Katherine Kingsland of West 55th Street. It is not clear how the two met, given that the senior Talbots were then living in San Francisco and 55th Street was not exactly uptown Los Angeles. But with a little fibbing on the license, the couple found a Presbyterian minister in San Bernardino to marry them. Katherine, not yet known as anything but virginal to her widowed mother and in-laws, spent the summer with the Talbots at their country house outside of Redwood City, with, no doubt, much padding around the halls at night. The license was discovered when Mrs. Kingsland was poking around in her daughter's redundant hope chest. The Times reported on the affair at length, quoting her as saying that "These two children have made their bed and will have to lie in it"...which, of course, was their whole intention. Still, somewhat equivocal, she and the Talbots were united in insisting that the young couple live apart until the bridegroom reached the age of 21, or be cut off.  After a brief period of not being let out of his mother's sight, Jimmie stole her Pierce-Arrow and took off for Los Angeles; it turned out that the seemingly spoiled rich boy had the balls to accept the challenge of earning his own living and supporting a wife, going to work right away, first in the kitchens of the Pacific Coast Biscuit Company and then driving one of its delivery trucks. It seems that the parents, particularly perhaps James, who'd married fairly young himself and could appreciate his son's business initiative and youthful passion, came around when the marriage appeared to be a happy one and when Patricia, the first of three grandchildren, was born on her father's 18th birthday. In a fairy tale of lifelong attraction, Jimmie and Katherine might have stayed married until death parted them; as it was, they were together for over 20 years before they divorced and each remarried. In the meantime, there was a crash on Wall Street, which, coupled with its owner's hubris and the exigencies of Wilshire Boulevard commerce, would bring down 651 South Hobart, if not yet in a physical sense.

The rear, western façade of the Getty/Talbot house is seen at far left; behind it are the Piccadilly 
Apartments and its large rooftop "P" and the Ambassador Hotel; just discernible above the
house is the top of City Hall. In the foreground the new, commercial Pellissier Square
is on the rise: The 12-story Pellissier Building and its Warner Theatre—soon to be
renamed the Wiltern for its intersection—would open in the fall of 1931.

There were the 1890s, there is our own era, and there were the Roaring '20s. Grab all you can. James A. Talbot had become the head of Richfield Oil in 1923 at the time of its consolidation with the United Oil Company, and he celebrated for starters with the purchase of the Getty house. As the economy boomed during the decade, Talbot raked it in, eventually expanding his personal interests in more and more land, in furniture manufacturing, in tugboats, aviation, soft-drink companies and breweries, orchards, and mines. Once the national bubble burst, and then Richfield's—with causes for the latter cited broadly as "mismanagement and overoptimism" and "considerable evidence of extravagance" as well as an inability to obtain additional working capital—countrywide newspapers announced on January 16, 1931, that Richfield had entered receivership. On the 28th, Talbot resigned not only as chairman of the board but as a director. As the extent of management's laissez-faire way with the company's books came to light over the next several months (SWEEPING INQUIRY BEGUN ON RICHFIELD OIL AFFAIRS), there was little left for Talbot to do but declare personal bankruptcy, which he did on June 9, a few weeks after belatedly resigning from the presidency of Western Steel. The amounts of unauthorized expenses and cash advances charged to Richfield by Talbot and his cronies cited in news coverage varied but seems to have totaled around $1 million; varying too were reports of Talbot's personal liability, starting with $3 million and before long up to $14 million. His ambition unlike that of his ethical and illustrious forebears and more like New Yorkers Richard Whitney later in the decade and Bernie Madoff more recently, it appears as though pure greed was Talbot's driving force.

With hubris in his hint of a smile, James A. Talbot
is booked at County Jail on May 16, 1932,
after his conviction of grand theft.

The state of California charged that Richfield funds went into directors' home improvements and lavish parties at the Biltmore; RICHFIELD GOLDEN ORGY REVEALED IN TESTIMONY was one headline during the trials after felony charges were returned by a grand jury on November 5, 1931. It seems that in addition to having bought expensive furnishings and artwork for 651 South Hobart and his San Francisco apartment, Talbot had used monies borrowed haphazardly from the oil concern to pay taxes on private property and to finance and maintain an expensive German yacht. Another boat apparently charged to Richfield was for Jimmie—all his youthful shenanigans forgotten—who loved marine racing. The company even paid for damage claims after the speedboat was involved in an accident, all of which Talbot claimed were legitimate expenses since the boat used Richfield gasoline and was therefore an investment in advertising. He had an answer for everything, even as the contents of his San Francisco apartment were auctioned off. Out on a $25,000 bond awaiting arraignment, Talbot continued to deny having falsified financial statements and hired up-and-coming criminal defense attorney Jerry Giesler. The trial began on April 11, 1932. While no conspiracy was found, Talbot, Clarence Fuller, and Raymond McKee were found guilty on May 16, Talbot on two felony counts of defalcation, and the three were taken upstairs to the county jail in the Hall of Justice. The following morning they were handcuffed together and marched back into court for sentencing. Each got two to twenty years. At least they cried when they left the courtroom to return to their cell.

Talbot's appeal for a new trial was denied, as was one on the grounds of ill health. Afterward, the only thing to do was to say goodbye to Lucy and Jimmie and be taken by train to San Quentin on November 23. Mercifully, once the steel doors of the Big House slammed shut, the papers moved on to other topics until Talbot was released on three years' parole on March 23, 1935. Ever confident of the momentum of his former status, he asked Governor Merriam for a pardon in September but was turned down. The public may have moved on, but its Depression-honed outrage over the financial shenanigans of the era's One Percent wouldn't permit even such a benign bone to be thrown. Death by heart attack at age 56 gave him his pardon, or the finger, depending how you look at it, the following July 17At the time of Talbot's trial in the spring of 1932, his house on Wilshire Boulevard was still in the hands of the bankruptcy court. In the interim there was a curious demise—also by heart attack—at 651 South Hobart.

John David de Guelph, Rex et Imperator de Jure, practices throne-sitting

Never giving up his insistence on his identity being rex et imperator de jure, John David de Guelph—later, in California, he became John Joshua David Edward George Patrick Andrew de Windsor—simply could not regard himself as a mere mortal. "I was born at Windsor Castle on the 8th of January, 1861.... As an infant I was placed with a nurse in Tonbridge, Kent, one Mrs. Nutley.... I sustained serious injury from [a] fall, my head being injured by coming into contact with a [train] rail, and by receiving a blow from the pick of a workman, who had it raised at the moment of my fall upon that spot." Somehow escaping death if not sanity, a dent remained in the skull of the strange man who claimed he was the firstborn of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, the product of a secret morganatic first marriage unacknowledged by the royal family, Grandmama Victoria most of all. The madcap, thoroughly dramatic memoirs of the wannabe prince were published in 1910 and reflect, most likely, the influence of Mrs. Nutley and the blow to the head; his eventual, perhaps inevitable arrival in California just before the turn of the 20th century could have been the single inspiration for the state's being saddled with the title of "the land of fruits and nuts." He was, of course, caught in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake. He claimed to be soldier in various exotic armies and even a cancer researcher. Where the money for his travels or even his breakfast came from is unclear—princes do not worry about such things, apparently—but, perhaps with some idea of becoming a movie star, for which he certainly had the era's moustache, he came to reside on Yucca Street in Hollywood during the '20s. Somehow in 1932 he came to be living in the distressed household at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Hobart, perhaps with Lucy Talbot, even though her husband was locked up and the furniture being taken away. Or perhaps he found work as the caretaker of an empty house—at any rate, when the Times (as did many American papers) wrote of his death on April 7, 1932, the circumstances were described as termination by heart attack "at the home of friends at 651 South Hobart Boulevard." Just to put the stopper on his whole magnificently deluded life, the prince's consort insisted that he was not dead but rather in suspended animation, asserting that this wasn't the first time the Prince had entered such a state and "that he had always been revived successfully." Mrs. De Windsor and her son, Lionel Victor De Windsor, began a vigil with a spiritualist medium, fixing his resurrection at 3 p.m. on April 9. The hour passed and she gave up.

Even with the Depression having slowed the rapid 1920s commercial development of Wilshire Boulevard, there was bustle enough to render the Getty house a 14-year-old relic amid new churches and filling stations and shops and theaters, including those in the 12-story Pellissier Building complex three blocks west. As they did for a number of old boulevard barns, the economy and then the war extended 651's life; real estate interests wouldn't be ready to redevelop the corner until the early 1950s. Exactly when the Talbot bankruptcy was settled is unclear, as is who came into possession of the house afterward, but, not surprisingly, it soon became a cobbled professional building. Later in 1932 chiropractor Maurice Le Bell rented rooms for his practice. Dr. Le Bell offered $1 treatments for constipation and rheumatism, among other ailments, and "no drugs/no starvation" reducing plans for plump Hollywood hopefuls and Wilshire District matrons. He promoted a "Chinese Rhubarb Diet" at his new office, and with cosmetologist Irehne Hobson having left 3677 Wilshire across the street—she was not someone to cross with such close competition—Le Bell sought to sublet space to a beautician. Moving into the house by July 1934 was Dr. Bernard S. McMahan, who billed himself as an osteopathic foot specialist; either he or his landlords by this point had decided that a boulevard address would add prestige (and justify charging a premium). The house became 3670 Wilshire, attracting more doctors and dentists, real estate men, and architect Richard Mortimer Bates, who had designed the Westlake Theatre on Alvarado Street in 1925.

Barely visible in its latter days, 651 South Hobart is behind a rooftop billboard near center right,
caddy-corner from the domed Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The dark spire of Bullock's-Wilshire
is at top, with a pale City Hall tower to its right over the Piccadilly and the Ambassador.

Developers finally rang the death knell for the Getty house in 1951 when $2 million was paid for the 2.2-acre property; the Department of Building and Safety issued a demolition permit on July 3, 1953. Stiles O. Clements, an establishment Los Angeles architect who became a master of Art Deco and created the landmark green Pellissier Building 20 years before, was brought into the redevelopment a few years later. His Transport Indemnity Building, the new 3670 Wilshire Boulevard, opened in 1955. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, the structure languished in the '70s and '80s and beyond, despite the rejuvenation and reopening of the Pellissier Building in 1985. Korean investors paid $45 million for the corner in the heady mid 2000s; the Transport Indemnity Building was demolished in the summer of 2005. The Times reported that ground was broken for a $250 million, 40-story mixed-use development in early 2006. The economy intervened before anything rose, with only a Clements building having been destroyed. There were hopes among some in the community that the corner would become a park, but the lot was sold to automobile mogul Don Hankey for $21 million in July 2011. Big plans, as usual. Stark in the shadow of the recently overhauled Wilshire Boulevard Temple diagonally opposite, the corner remained barren in May 2014 except for parked cars; then the southwest corner of Wilshire and Hobart returned to residential use. In late 2015, developers were issued the initial permits for what became The Pearl, a 346-unit rental apartment building extending south to Seventh Street. Opened in 2018 with predictable exterior design and bland interiors, it is a prime example of Los Angeles's turn away from the suburban single-family model toward dense Blade Runner urbanity. The building, addressed 687 South Hobart Boulevard, offers such suburban-mall amenities as enough retail space for every chain store imaginable and an acre of parking with charging stations, as well as useless balconies, a pool, bocce court, barbecues, fitness center, yoga room, and black-car waiting areas and dry-cleaning, housekeeping, and dog-washing and -wallking services. And nary a palm or blade of grass.

The Franklin Life Insurance Company of Springfield, Illinois, bought
 the Pellissier Building from the de Roulet family in February 1956. In the
opposite corner of the image and below is the Transport Indemnity Building
designed by Stiles O. Clements and completed the year before; it was
demolished 50 years later, its site now part of the block-long Pearl.

The Pearl opened on the site of the Getty house in 2018; the only vintage items in this southwesterly
view appear to be a slice of the green Pellissier Building at right and a base of one of the Wilshire
Special streetlamps that began to line the commercializing boulevard during the late 1920s.

Illustrations: The Architectural Digest: Southern California Edition;