3078 Wilshire Boulevard


While trade had already replaced domestic life along much of the boulevard by the time of its opening on September 26, 1929, John Parkinson's 241-foot-tall Bullock's-Wilshire department store signaled to residents living far from the neighborhood that there was a new game in town and to holdouts of the residential avenue that the jig was up. Bullock's replaced two large houses that once stood on three lots on the south side of the street between Wilshire Place and Westmoreland Avenue, although only one was in place by the time the store was planned. To the east was the Maines/Summers house addressed 655 Wilshire Place to the west, at the southeast corner of Westmoreland and gone years before the store was thought of, was 3078 Wilshire Boulevard.

Two houses within a block of each other on the boulevard appear not to have been the usual large piles of plutocrats, but rather relatively modest dwellings built earlier and more along the lines of frame farmhouses. With the dusty trail in front of it just being changed on maps from Sixth Street to Wilshire Boulevard, the Busch's 3124 Wilshire—once at today's southeast corner of Shatto Place—was built in 1898. But 3078 seems to have been built even earlier, indeed before Gaylord Wilshire bought the land for his subdivision less than a half-mile to the east near Westlake/MacArthur Park. Cecil Charles Ridley Sumner, born in England in January 1852, arrived in Los Angeles before 1890; on July 8 of that year he became a naturalized U. S. citizen. He tried his hand in the warehousing business, and by 1893 was in real estate. By then he and his English wife, neé Euphemia Dorothea Sophia Chambers—they had married in Los Angeles in 1890—were living in a cottage on about three acres way out of town. Cecil turned to fruit growing, apparently on this property, which would soon wind up having as its north border the new westward extension of Wilshire Boulevard, née Sixth Street. Everything changed in 1900: With Dorothea expecting the couple's third child, their oldest of two daughters, Margaret, died on July 28 at the age of nine. Cecil, perhaps grief-stricken, died two weeks later on August 13. Dorothy gave birth to a boy on March 30, 1901; it seems that to secure her family's future, her Wilshire acreage, hugely appreciated in value, was put on the market. Enter Calvin W. Brown.

The mystery of why the house delineated on Sanborn fire insurance maps and in real estate atlases during the '90s and '00s had disappeared, even before some nearby Wilshire houses had been built, seems clear—3078 was a modest building. The Los Angeles Herald reported Brown's acquisition of the cottage and the Sumner property, which stretched south down Westmoreland to Seventh Street, on February 2, 1902. The next year Brown was granted a building permit for the "addition of two rooms to the frame cottage at 3078 Wilshire." Brown, a vice-president of the Merchants Trust Company and an energetic real estate man, divided his new property into 17 lots, with the existing cottage straddling two of them; to maximize the potential for four Wilshire addresses, the square across Westmoreland facing Wilshire was also split into two lots narrower than the usual space given over to the typical new boulevard house. "C. W. Brown's Tract," as it was indicated on maps, sold fairly well; there were five houses in the subdivision, in addition to 3078, by 1910. The 150-by-150-foot double lot created on the southwest corner of Westmoreland was sold to Reuben Shettler in March 1908 for a single residence, which the automobile man built, with the addressed of 3100 Wilshire Boulevard, later that year. Brown, who had recently been living at 3078, may have decided that there was more of a chance of attracting rich builders with large parcels, ones cleared of anything modest and outmoded. As it turns out, the old Sumner house was determined to be not so modest and outmoded that it shouldn't be given a second chance. After moving his family to South Gramercy Place, Brown took out a permit from the Department of Buildings on June 7, 1910, to relocate his former residence back toward Seventh Street to his tract's Lot 14, where it became 680 South Westmoreland Avenue. While almost all lots of the C. W. Brown Tract were occupied by 1921, there were still, with the winds of trade blowing along the boulevard, no homebuilders interested in the prime southeast corner of Wilshire and Westmoreland—and there wouldn't be anyone building on it until John G. Bullock claimed it for his new store.

As excavation and construction of Bullock's-Wilshire progressed during 1928 and 1929, the lots to its south began to be cleared for the store's parking lot. While two of the large houses on the west side of Wilshire Place were demolished, dwellings on the east side of Westmoreland Avenue between Wilshire and Seventh Street were relocated, going in all directions, west—the usual course of mobile Los Angeles residences—but also north, and—unusually—east as far as East Adams Boulevard beyond Central Avenue (see 1152 East Adams Boulevard). Unfortunately, the old farmhouse originally at 3078 Wilshire Boulevard, apparently the first dwelling in these parts, does not appear to have been among the moved and was most likely demolished.

Illustration: Private Collection